DNA leader Branville McCartney.
By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government’s proposed changes to the Employment Act are nothing more than an attempt to “appease” the country’s labourers because of its “dishonesty” in handling the shock mass redundancy action by Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort, DNA Leader Branville McCartney said yesterday.
Mr McCartney told The Tribune that the Christie administration’s proposal to criminalise mass redundancy without government consultation could negatively affect the business community and ward off potential foreign investors.
He said a “balance” needs to be struck in implementing fair labour laws and creating an environment that is “very conducive” to conducting business in the country.
Last week, The Tribune obtained a document written by the Department of Labour outlining how the government wants to bring “emergency legislation” to Parliament that would make it a criminal offence for employers to fail to consult or notify the relevant minister or bargaining agent about their intention to make 10 or more workers redundant.
The government has also recommended that employers consult the minister and bargaining agent at least 60 days prior to the redundancy exercise whenever an employer is proposing to make 10 or more employees redundant.
According to the document, the government plans not only to force employers to give it and unions substantial notification of redundancy plans and to consult them, but to also remove the cap in the Employment Act which ensures that there is a 12-year limit on the redundancy pay an employee is entitled to under the law.
It came in the wake of Sandals making over 600 employees at the Cable Beach resort redundant so it could conduct renovations. The government has claimed it was given very little notice of the resort’s plans to make the workers redundant.
In its document the government’s proposal referred the move by Sandals.
“It’s politics for this government again, for the PLP,” Mr McCartney said. “Labourers have been crying out for change, they’ve been crying out for the government to look at the Employment Act for years and nothing has happened. We are now just hearing about these proposed amendments in light of the Sandals redundancies.
“The government is really almost trying to make up and to try and show the country that what they’re doing is something for the benefit of labourers. But again it’s not a genuine attempt on behalf of this government. Labour laws ought to have been looked at years ago to ensure fair labour laws, but at the same time balancing the (business) aspect of it.”
Mr McCartney submitted that the government had to have known of the layoffs beforehand, either because Sandals would have had to get the necessary permission to renovate from the Ministry of Works, or the ministry being the one to say whether or not employees could be on site for the renovations.
He believes the government has been dishonest about what it knew about the planned redundancies.
Still, Mr McCartney said notwithstanding the government’s rationale behind calls for the “emergency legislation” to deal with the matter, the government needs to strike a “balancing act” between enforcing fair labour laws and respecting the autonomy of the business community.
“…People would be reluctant - if the government does not find a balance between the two - to go in business initially which will help employment, or if you are in business to remain in business because of the possibility of legislation that is detrimental to your business, or indeed not expand your business.
“But not only local businesses, you know; foreign investors. When foreign investors come over they have to comply with our laws, and they look at that as well. So it could also be a detriment to – if the government doesn’t get it right – foreign investors who are looking at investing in the country.
“And it could certainly be a deterrent to foreign investors if the legislation does not strike a balance between the labour force and the business community.”