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Minister suggests labor law updates on the way

Gibson says new tripartite council should push employment act, minimum wage changes
Guardian Business Editor

Published: Oct 25, 2013

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The minister of labour has made it known that he expects amendments to the Employment Act and Minimum Wage Act to be “quickly” proposed once a National Tripartite Council linking labor unions, employers and government is formally established “in short order”.

Yesterday, Peter Goudie, head of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC) Labour Division, said he is not certain but “assumes” that these amendments are ones which the BCCEC previously made it known that they objected to.

However, he said that the BCCEC is very supportive of plans to establish a National Tripartite Council, suggesting it should reduce labor-related strife and contention and formalize the role of the voice of employers in matters relating to labor.

Speaking at the opening of the Congress of Caribbean Labour’s 18th Triennial Delegates Congress at SuperClubs Breezes, Shane Gibson told delegates that the government intends “in short order” to establish the council, which would allow for a more “harmonious” relationship between unions, employers and the government, and should “expedite negotiations relating to workers’ concerns”.

“The government has introduced new legislation, namely the National Tripartite Council Bill 2013, which will be read for the 2nd and 3rd time and passed, in short order,” said Gibson.

“Once formally established, I anticipate that the National Tripartite Council will quickly move to ratify and recommend the amendments to the Employment Act and the Minimum Wage Act and submit the same to the government to be tabled in Parliament.”

While not going into details, Gibson has previously stated that he would wish to see an increase in the minimum wage. During the budget debate 2013/2014 he said “we all agree” it is too low and suggested that after consultations a decision would be taken on “if and when” to increase it.

Meanwhile, the minister has also stated that he would like to see a more “level playing field” for employees in relation to redundancy, referring in particular to instances where employees have not been properly compensated after the closure of a company.

Goudie, who attended the event, said he would not be surprised if Gibson was referring to the amendments to the Minimum Wage Act and Employment Act which he had put on the table shortly after the Christie administration’s election in 2012.

Goudie said that at the time Gibson raised these proposals, he sent the private sector “into shock mode” and they quickly rejected them.

“We know what those proposals are - we objected to all of them. So then he agreed to take everything off the table until we got tripartite legislation passed and the group working, then we could start looking at stuff,” said Goudie.

He emphasized that a National Tripartite Council would be a good thing for all involved.

“What unions and employers don’t want is government doing something and not discussing it with us. Anything you’re going to do, let’s bring it out and discuss it, don’t sneak something in. We want to make it so there’s an act of Parliament that says ‘you have to have this’. We don’t want to be trotted out once a year, and then you say ‘tripartite is alive and well’. We want a true tripartite forum so we have proper dialogue about everything.”

In his address, Gibson said he expects the National Tripartite Council, once established, to advise the government on the formulation of national policies and strategies on all aspects of labor, productivity, quality and competition; foster harmonious relations; create and develop methodologies for productivity measurement, management and improvement in the public and private sector; create and promulgate a national development strategy on labor and industrial relations; review current labor legislation and make recommendations for amendments and codification of the same; liaise with national, regional and international organizations on labor and industrial relations, and promote training and education of all social partners.

“There is no question that an employee’s productivity and performance is intricately tied to his or her working conditions, pay, remuneration and benefits. As such, any nation intent upon competing in the global arena must pay particular attention to the productivity of its workforce.

“The Bahamas government is, therefore, committed to improving the well-being of all employees both in the public and private sector, so that we might maintain our position as a global player,” said Gibson.

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