Union: Central Bank ‘coerced’ to appeal vacation ruling
Guardian Business Editor
Published: Oct 11, 2013
The Central Bank of The Bahamas has moved to appeal an Industrial Tribunal ruling which would extend paid vacation entitlements for workers, in a response which its employees’ union said will see the bank’s staff penalized for the institution’s decision to act in order to “champion the rights of small businesses”.
The Central Bank and the union were in court yesterday as the Central Bank sought and received a stay of execution over the Industrial Tribunal’s August ruling that any worker entitled to two weeks of vacation should get 14 days paid holiday, rather than 10, while anyone entitled to three weeks would be given 21 days off, instead of 15.
The appeal against the Industrial Tribunal’s landmark ruling on vacation pay, which could potentially see businesses all over the country not only forced to extend their employees’ paid vacation entitlement, but also to pay compensation for vacation to which employees may claim to have been entitled to, but unable to take, since 2001, will now be heard in late November.
The employees’ union at the Central Bank yesterday said it feels as though staff at the bank are being penalized for the Central Bank’s decision to appeal a ruling not on its own behalf, but because it has been “coerced” to do so on behalf of “small business operators” everywhere.
Melony Munnings, president of the Union of Central Bankers, said she thinks the bank itself is amenable to increasing the vacation entitlement in accordance with Industrial Tribunal President Harrison Lockhart’s ruling and providing compensation, given that a small number of Central Bank’s staff is impacted.
“In all seriousness, the relationship we have here is one of reasonableness and understanding, and I believe that once the governor knew what was right, she would’ve done it,” suggested Munnings.
The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) has been the most vocal critic of Lockhart’s ruling.
In early September, the BCCEC’s chairman, Chester Cooper, expressed “grave concerns” over the “far reaching” implications the ruling would have for private sector costs and productivity levels.
Yesterday, Munnings said that while she understands that The Bahamas is undergoing “trying economic conditions” and “most businesses may be financially challenged at this time”, she believes most businesses were always aware that the Employment Act entitled workers to the amount of vacation determined by Lockhart in his ruling and simply sought to “evade the law”.
She said that as part of the union’s submissions to the Industrial Tribunal on the issue earlier this year it “benchmarked” vacation given to Central Bank employees with those workers in other areas and found that “a lot of the employers, especially in the unionized environment were in compliance with the act, leaving the Central Bank workers as the odd ones out.
In the table showing this benchmarking seen by Guardian Business, workers at BTC, the National Insurance Board, BEC and CIBC FirstCaribbean all get a minimum of 14 days of paid vacation after their first year on the job, rather than 10 days as with most in non-unionized sectors.
This then extends to 17 to 20 days of vacation per year for those in these organizations who have been on the job for four years or more.
Responding to the outcry by the private sector over the ruling, Munnings said: “I don’t think businesses have to suffer. The employers simply need to sit and negotiate with their staff how to resolve the matter. They could arrange payment in lieu, offer gifts or defer compensation for a later date,” she said, referring specifically to the ruling’s effect of requiring businesses to pay compensation to workers who have been precluded from taking the amount of vacation to which Lockhart’s ruling would suggest they were entitled to since 2001.
Robert Myers, vice chairman of the BCCEC, speaking with Guardian Business on Wednesday, said the BCCEC is in support of the Central Bank’s appeal of the decision, calling the business advocacy group “highly involved in the outcome”.
“We’ve got our finger on the pulse. There is due process that has to be followed. Now if the (the Central Bank) decides they weren’t going to defend that action then the business community at large would have to decide if it wants to take that on. Fortunately, [the Central Bank] is doing the right thing.”