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Sixty-Day Termination Notice ‘Recipe For Woe’

The National Tripartite Council’s co-chairman has branded the proposed ‘60-day advance notice’ that employers must give of impending redundancies as “a recipe for putting your business in trouble”.

Peter Goudie, one of the private sector’s representatives on the Council, told Tribune Business that such a long warning period threatened to undermine a company’s operational efficiency and productivity.

Workers set to be released might depart earlier than the business intended, while morale among all staff would likely plummet once the prospect of redundancies became known.

Mr Goudie added that staff being made redundant might also start disrupting their employer’s business in revenge, even to the extent of sabotage.

“The general feeling is that we don’t like what is being proposed,” he told Tribune Business of the private sector’s stance on the Government’s intended labour law reforms.

“We don’t necessarily want to change the redundancy laws, rules, whatever you want to call them. And to give someone 60 days’ notice [of redundancy], that’s just a recipe for putting your business in trouble.

“Some of the employees, if they know they’re being made redundant, might start making trouble for the business. That just doesn’t make sense.”

The Government is seeking to push two significant reforms through the National Tripartite Council and Parliament in the wake of Sandals’ mass termination exercise.

The Christie administration wants to make it mandatory for employers to provide two months’ (60 days) notice to itself and the relevant bargaining agent (trade union) whenever they are about to make 10 or more workers redundant, with failing to do so becoming a criminal offence.

And, joining this proposal in the “emergency legislation” the Government wanted to bring to the House of Assembly by September 30, is the removal of the Employment Act’s existing ‘12-year cap’ on severance/redundancy pay.

Such a move has long been demanded by Bahamian trade union leaders, while the ‘advance redundancy warning’ measure appears to be a “knee jerk” reaction by the Government to what occurred at Sandals.

While both proposals must be discussed by the Tripartite Council, in a bid to achieve consensus before they become draft legislation put before Parliament, the Government has made little effort to disguise its determination to move them forward.

The Department of Labour served notice of the Christie administration’s intentions to the other two sides represented on the Tripartite Council - the private sector and the trade unions - via a notice issued to them on August 30.

Mr Goudie, though, told Tribune Business that it was now “impossible” for the Government to hit that September 30 deadline.

Apart from Parliament still being in recess, he added that the private sector and trade unions were still finalising their respective positions.

Mr Goudie said it would likely be another two-three weeks before the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC), and other private sector groupings, finalised their position on the proposals.

And “a long road” lies ahead before any consensus is achieved at the Tripartite Council - a development that would then allow the proposed reforms, in whatever format they take, to be brought to Cabinet and then the House of Assembly.

“We’re both consulting our constituents,” Mr Goudie said of the private sector and trade unions. “We’ve been soliciting advice from the International Labour Organisation and other businesses, and have been talking to hotel groups.

“We haven’t started any real form of discussions at the Tripartite Council because we want to get feedback from the members. We need to know exactly what our position is before we start talking.

“That’s where we are right now. There was a meeting at the Tripartite Council, but nothing was really discussed because neither of us knows our positions.”

Suggesting that it might prove difficult for the Tripartite Council to “get consensus” on the reforms as they stand now, Mr Goudie said he also discussed the issue in Guyana last week during a CARICOM Tripartite Council meeting.

“I met with the [regional] director of the ILO, who resides in Trinidad, and we talked about this,” he added. “We’re going to have their position in the next week or two.

“We’re getting the best advice we can lay our hands on, and will go from there. I think it will be another two-three weeks before we get anything concrete.”

“It’s probably going to be a long road,” Mr Goudie said of the proposed reforms. “It’s going to be a long wait for the discussion, and a long road until we get somewhere that we’re going to be, that’s for sure.”

Many in the private sector view the proposed labour law reforms, especially the ‘redundancy notice’ proposal, as unwarranted government intrusion and interference into the affairs of private businesses, and how they manage their operations.

They also threaten to undermine labour market flexibility, and the flexibility of Bahamas-based businesses in general to restructure as necessary to ensure their survival.

Businesses are also likely to view the proposals as government over-regulation and overkill, and a ‘knee jerk’ response to the peculiar circumstances created by Sandals decision to terminate virtually its entire workforce to facilitate a $4 million renovation programme.

While the ‘redundancy notification’ proposal threatens to tie the private sector up in more ‘red tape’ and bureaucracy, plans to lift the statutory ‘12-month cap’ on redundancy pay will further increase business costs.

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