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Portable Pensions, Redundancy Fund Under Exploration

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Portable worker pensions and creating a National Redundancy Fund are among the reforms being eyed by the National Tripartite Committee’s strategic plan, it was revealed yesterday.

Robert Farquharson, the former union head and labour director who now chairs the Committee, told Tribune Business that its three-year plan also intends to assess the feasibility of merging the Employment and Industrial Relations Acts into a single piece of legislation.

Kick-starting the long-awaited apprenticeship programme under the Skills for current and future jobs initiative, which is being financed by a $50m Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) loan, is another focus as part of efforts to improve the “employability” of young and unskilled Bahamian workers.

“The Minister of Labour [Dion Foulkes] has approved the three-year strategic plan from the National Tripartite Council,” Mr Farquharson said. “We’re looking at the possibility of establishing a National Redundancy Fund to ease the pressure on employers to pay employees what they are owed when the company fails.

“We’re also looking at the possibility of a National Pension Plan. We feel more people would be willing to change jobs, and be more productive, if they could take their pension with them.” He added that the design of such pensions would be based on the US 401(k) model.

A National Redundancy Fund has been proposed before, especially by trade union leaders such as Trades Union Congress (TUC) president Obie Ferguson, who have argued that it will provide appropriate protection for employees in terms of paying them severance and other benefits should their employer - especially a foreign one - either close down or skip the country.

While that would have aided the likes of former Royal Oasis employees, and ex-Taylor Industries staff in a more recent example, the prime concern with such an initiative is how it would be financed, by whom, and how much they would pay.

Further expanding The Bahamas’ social safety net frequently fills employers with dread, especially the many who are struggling, because it seems to promise an increased tax on both businesses and employees to finance it.

Mr Farquharson, meanwhile, said the National Tripartite Council was seeking to identify 2,500 Bahamians between the ages of 17 and 40 to participate in the launch of a national apprenticeship programme part-financed by the IDB’s loan.

The National Training Agency (NTA) and Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI) will provide the training facilities, while the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and other private sector bodies will place participants into on-the-job training.

“The idea is to increase the employability of these people, improve their skills, certify their training and give them gainful employment,” Mr Farquharson added. “We’re also going to see if we can amalgamate the Employment Act and Industrial Relations Act into one document. We’ve had so many amendments of both over the years.

“We also want to look at the possibility of having workers’ representatives involved in Heads of Agreement discussions with investors to ensure workers’ rights are respected. We also want to find a mechanism to transform the Industrial Tribunal into the industrial side of the Supreme Court. We think we have a mechanism now, so by the end of this year we will be able to move and have ready legislation to achieve that.”

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