Wages bill needs refining

 

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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 06 May 01


Labour Minister Harry Partap, to his credit, responded in last Sunday’s Guardian expediently and in full to the column which was, for the record, inspired by a true (not hypothetical) story of two low-paid women who were sacked from their place of employment for asking for their NIS numbers and TD4 forms.

 

It was not a particularly startling story, but multiply that by thousands of men and women (up to an alarming 80% of the workforce in this country according to the Minister of Labour) who are barely paid the minimum wage, and whose benefits are being withheld, and we’re looking at a systematic creation of a massive underclass by exploitative employers.

 

Minister Partap pointed at the National Minimum Wage of seven dollars an hour, the Maternity Benefits Act and amendments to the Minimum Wage Act as evidence of the Government’s commitment towards bringing justice to workers, and law-breaking employers to heel.

 

I also was sent a draft copy of the Basic Conditions of Work and Minimum Wages Bill 2000, now before the Tripartite Committee of the Lower House for comment. The Bill, claims Partap, will provide “a basic floor of rights for all workers.”

 

Its flagship proposals include “a level of Sick Leave and Holiday with pay; minimum terms and conditions; the treatment of time off for religious worship; the treatment of HIV workers and Sexual Harassment of Women in the workplace.”

 

In broad terms, it aims to establish a Basic Conditions of Work and Minimum Wages Commission, close loopholes, especially in terms of the use of contracts for employees and increase the power and jurisdiction of the Industrial Court so a wider range of offences are heard more quickly.

 

As promised, the following is a summary of the proposed Bill:

Part II - General principles of good employment practice

A dependent contractor (someone who works primarily for one employer) cannot have worse terms and conditions than regular employees as defined by this Bill.

Part III - Hours of Work

A workweek is set at 40 hours per week. For Sunday work, employees are to be paid double their regular wages (or 1.5 times the regular wage if employee normally works on a Sunday).

Public Holidays to be paid double time.

Night work - employee should receive overtime time pay or a shift allowance.

Part IV - Leave

Minimum leave is ten working days.

Employees are entitled to 14 working days’ sick leave each year.

Employees are entitled to 4 days’ “family responsibility” leave annually.

Part VI - Termination of employment

Notice must be given of termination and payment must be given in lieu of notice. Exception is made for termination for cause recognised by law.

Employers should set up or continue pension plans. It is not clear that NIS is included in the definition of pension plans.

Part VII - Prohibition of Child and Forced Labour

Child labour is allowed. However, the definition of child labour that is not allowed will need to be clarified.

Forced labour is not allowed.

Part VIII - HIV and AIDS protection

No discrimination is allowed against person suffering with AIDS or HIV.

Part IX - Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is specifically forbidden.

Part X - Agency Employment

A company, which uses the services of a contractor or agency, is held jointly liable with the contractor or the agency for breaches of this Bill.

Part XI - The Minimum Wage Commission

Lists the makeup and job description of the Basic Conditions of Work and Minimum Wage Commission.

The Minister must give 25 days’ notice of any draft Order, to allow for objections.

Ministry of Labour officials have access to documents and staff necessary. They can get a court order if access is denied.

The fine for breaking the laws as stated in this Bill is $30,000.

 

The Bill, in broad outline, seems reasonable. Since it aims to empower the majority of our working population (who are also the most vulnerable - among them many single mothers) its intentions are commendable.

 

A Bill that could, if it has sufficient mechanisms in place for implementation, have far-reaching effects on our country, from crime to productivity. But there are unanswered questions,  (for example, the concept of equal pay for work of equal value is a recipe for a great deal of acrimony, because who decides what is “equal value”), and there are clauses over which we all, members of the Tripartite Committee of the Lower House, and other parliamentarians, will want a hearing.

 

A healthy debate can make the difference between a piece of paper and something that works. Now is your time to get hold of the Bill from the Ministry of Labour, or comment on the summary above.

 

Next week: The proposed Basic Conditions of Work and Minimum Wages Bill, 2000.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur