By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
The Director of Labour yesterday said there was “no basis” to the Chamber of Commerce’s assertion that the labour law reforms were “ultra vires” because they had not been unanimously approved by all National Tripartite Council (NTC) members.
Robert Farquharson also implied that the Chamber and private sector were being disingenuous in their arguments, pointing out that the 40 per cent minimum wage increase went forward and became law, even though the trade unions wanted a greater rise.
Mr Farquharson, who is chairman of the National Tripartite Council, told Tribune Business: “Our job is to make recommendations to the Government. It does not mean everything must come through us. I think their position is inconsistent with what has been happening at the Council level - that there must be a majority vote. I disagree with their position.”
The Chamber, in its Wednesday night statement, argued that the reforms to the Employment and Industrial Relations Acts, which were tabled in the House of Assembly on Wednesday, “should not be promoted as having been recommended by the NTC”.
It reiterated concerns, first expressed in a December 20, 2016, letter to Mr Farquharson, that the National Tripartite Council, which was created to resolve labour-related issues in a consensual manner, could only recommend changes to existing laws if there was unanimous agreement between all stakeholders.
“Any decisions from the NTC, which are not unanimously agreed by the executive members, constituting a quorum in any meeting, will be ultra vires to the powers derived under the National Tripartite Council Act,” the Chamber warned yesterday.
Its position is that all three stakeholders represented on the Council - employers, trade unions and the Government - must agree on labour law amendments before such changes can be submitted to the Government.
Mr Farquharson, though, offered a different perspective. “That’s not correct. Mr Sumner, in his capacity as the chief executive of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation, would have articulated that position in a minority report that was also sent to the Government when the recommendations were sent in,” he added.
“There are examples, in this process, where the employer and the Government were on the same page on a position, and the union differed from us, and it wasn’t a problem.
“Furthermore, when we made the recommendation previously on the Minimum Wage Act, where the employer and the Government were on the same page, the union was not. That was passed and it was OK then.”
Mr Farquharson added: “I don’t think the Chamber’s contention in that regard has any basis. Our job as a Council is only to make recommendations to the Government. The Government may not take our recommendations.
“Our job is to articulate to the Government what we discussed and what we recommended. In all cases, the social partners were represented and involved in discussion on these Bills. We, at the request of the employers, postponed the passage of these Bills for 90 days just to make sure that there was enough consultation and, through all the consultations, they still didn’t agree.
“What do you want us to do? Wait for them to agree? These things were in discussion for over a year. We completed our recommendations and submitted them to the minister in December,” he continued.
“The Council members knew that the recommendations went to the Office of the Attorney General and the Law Reform Commission, and were put into legislative form. That is what was presented in Parliament on Wednesday.”
Chamber chairman, Gowon Bowe, told Tribune Business that the Bills tabled in Parliament on Wednesday were sent to it only the night before.
He added that the Chamber was “disappointed” that the Government had proceeded without unanimous agreement as required by the National Tripartite Act.
“We had no advance notice of the timetable for tabling and the ultimate contents, as we had recommended that the Tripartite Council continue its work before any Bills were drafted,” Mr Bowe said.
Mr Farquharson acknowledged that some of the amendments had not come before the Council. “The council did not address the recommendations regarding the Industrial Tribunal,” he conceded.
“Those would have come after the Office of the Attorney General would have consulted with Mr Sumner in his capacity as Chamber chief executive. They had extensive discussion on those. The Government also consulted with the University of the West Indies.”