So why not enforce the law?

 

Quick Links

1995, 1996, 1997

1998, 1999, 2000

2001, 2002, 2003

2004, 2005, 2006

2007, 2008, 2009

2010, 2011

Category: Trinidad Society Date: 29 Apr 01


Last week I wrote of short-sighted, greedy employers; bullying businessmen who, in many cases, exploited their frontline workers, and often lowest-paid workers including domestics, shop assistants, gym instructors, by either paying them less than a minimum wage, and/or creaming off taxes, insurances and benefits they were meant to be paying the State on their behalf.

 

There seems to be the need for a central system to network all departments of labour. Is it so difficult, for instance, to make it compulsory for new businesses to bring evidence that their employees are registered for required tax benefits and deductions before officially registering them? This week, I sought the views of various government departments on the issue and received a chequered response.

 

Some said new laws are taking care of law-breaking bosses. Others countered by saying the problem is not so much surveillance systems, or the law - but with the fact that for over 40 years, nobody has been jailed for tax offences because the people at the “top”, and by that I understand people with wealth and political influence, are the worst offenders.

 

Here are their views:

 

Source from the Ministry of Labour:

“Not so long ago, banks fired women for being pregnant because it took them off the job and they (banks) had to pay maternity benefits. You had a situation where women were forced to provide sex to keep their jobs, in various businesses throughout the country, where people were required to sign for wages they didn’t get, and were fired if they reported it.

“Before the amended Minimum Wages Act came into effect, one of the biggest offenders was the private security companies who made workers work long hours for a pittance.

“What they were doing was heinous. Exploited employees had little recourse in the civil courts.

“Now, under the brand-new Maternity Act and Amendments to the Minimum Wage Act, the law is very strict. Exploited employees, be they domestic workers, pregnant workers, underpaid workers who are paid less than $7 an hour, can go straight to the Industrial Court through the Ministry of Labour and get a hearing, whether or not he or she is member of a union.”

 

Urban Ned, Assistant Commissioner of Collections:

“There is widespread abuse with taxes. On paper, the law is strict. Employers who swindle their employees by illegally creaming their taxes can be jailed and fined up to 300 per cent of the amount they owe government. In practice, it has never happened because the law isn’t enforced.

“I know for example, of people who are exploited and have to put up with terrible conditions working with a large garment producer but because they are poor, the employers have them at their mercy.

“Many employers deduct funds for National Insurance and PAYE, but don’t remit it. Many employees who assume their NIS is being paid, are shocked when they come to us for refunds for health expenses after they have been sick.

“We don’t know you. We have no refunds for you because your employer has never paid NIS on your behalf.

“When employees want to file tax returns and ask for the TD4s, they get the runaround.

“We have been promised the computerisation of our systems for two years now. It will allow us, with the use of a centrally-run system, to link all offices, keep tabs on current employers and beef up our surveillance system. But now, because of lack of funds, it looks like it won’t happen till next year. Until that happens, little will change.

“Our Complaints Unit takes reports of non-compliance. We send in an officer to investigate. We don’t need to know the identity of the worker, since it may cost him his job.

“If the employer is guilty, we give him time to comply with the law, and impose fines, but the penalty of imprisonment has never been used. If you, as an employee, suspect non-compliance on the part of your employer, call Mr Michael Mark, in the field unit on 625-0895.”

 

Lennox A Marcelle, Legal Counsel, Ministry of Labour:

“For the past three years I have been working with a team in the Ministry of Labour, Manpower Development and Industrial Relations to develop law to deal with the subject matter of your article.

“A draft Bill has been tabled in Parliament and is currently being discussed at the level of the Standing Tripartite Committee on Labour Matters.

“I am pleased that you raised those issues. Generally, those issues have not received the support of employers.”

 

Helen Thomas, Board of Inland Revenue:

“The only system we have so far are the field officers, who are authorised to audit employers, but they can’t keep tabs on every single business in the country.

“We know there is non-compliance, but have no statistics. What is needed now, clearly, is to enforce the law.

“We need the political will to stop the exploitation of the most vulnerable among us, no matter how powerful, wealthy, or well-connected the offender - even if it means making history with a jail sentence.”

 

Next week: A look at the proposed Basic Conditions of Work and Minimum Wages Bill 2000.

 

horizontal rule

 

 

All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur