On December 5, 2014, eight members of the nine-member Employment Rights Tribunal resigned with immediate effect. Included in those eight who resigned were the three members nominated by the Barbados Employers’ Confederation, the most representative body of employers in Barbados as recognised by the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Human Resource Development.
The three employers’ representatives were Dr. Hensley Sobers, Immediate Past President of the BEC, Dr. Ashwell Thomas, a Past President of the BEC and currently a Trustee and Mr. Colin Walcott, Executive Director of the BEC.
In an article carried in the Sunday Sun newspaper of December 21, 2014 reporting on the Press Conference called by the Minister of Labour, Social Security and Human Resource Development, there are several comments attributed to Minister Byer-Suckoo which require our comment. This is to ensure that the integrity and competence of the representatives of the employers on the said Tribunal are not challenged or compromised and we comment as follows:
1) The primary reason for the resignation of our representatives was as a result of a direct and specific instruction by the Minister of Labour, contrary to the provisions of the Employment Rights Act, 2012-9; neither the Minister of Labour nor any other person has any such power to direct the Tribunal.
2) Any attempt to accommodate the said directive would have put the integrity of the ERT under a severe cloud as well as the personal and professional integrity of our representatives; it was considered that their resignations were the only option available for exercise.
3) As far back as 2010 during tri-partite discussions on the Draft Employment Rights Bill, the employers’ representatives consistently and repeatedly brought to the attention of the meetings, the need to have Regulations to accompany the Bill, including the Rules of Procedure for the Employment Rights Tribunal, brought for discussion by the tri-partite group; those entreaties were ignored.
4) To suggest that the ERT should mimic the operations of some of the National Insurance Tribunals, which are considered to be simple operations, is misleading as the said NIS Tribunals do in fact have a fully functioning and staffed Secretariat supporting the work of the various tribunals.
5) The Tribunal, in accordance with Section 6 of the ERA established rules based on research and precedents to ensure consistent and appropriate application given the nature of its work.
6) Cognizant of Section 48 of the ERA, the Tribunal created a Case Management system to ensure harmony between its operations and that of the Industrial Relations arm of the Labour Department as well as to achieve delivery of expeditious justice.
7) To suggest that the Tribunal was “on the wrong path” is unfortunate, as the role of the Tribunal is very clearly set out in the Employment Rights Act, 2012-9.
The process of identifying and nominating our nominees will commence shortly and we have undertaken to provide such nominations, subject to ratification by our Council, by the close of business on Friday, January 30, 2015.