ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Despite efforts by Minister of Labour Dr Errol Cort to deal with the backlog of cases at the Labour Department, President of the Antigua & Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) Esrome Roberts is lamenting the length of time it takes for cases to be heard.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the ABWU 46th Annual Delegates Conference yesterday, Roberts lauded Dr Cort for his “foresight in appointing three mediators to assist the Labour Department,” but he added, “unfortunately, the system has not complemented his efforts.”
According to Roberts, “there needs to be a more systematic and chronological order for setting hearing dates of cases.”
He believes that the interim between the date a case is filed to when it is heard should not take more than two months. However, Roberts admitted that there are times when cases are heard “in less than two months.”
But, according to the head of the ABWU, “there is no consistent approach to the system.”
He stressed that the loss of income does not only affect the employee, but it affects the employee’s immediate family, extended family, mortgages and all other credit facilities.
Roberts highlighted that the ABWU understands, “the TUC (Trade Union Congress) is seeking to meet with the minister and we anticipate there’ll be a speedy resolution to some of these issues” and recommendations will be forwarded to the minister.
As the head of the workers’ union awaits some form of resolution, one of the three mediators at the Labour Department, Henderson Bass, said Roberts’ blame is misplaced.
He told OBSERVER Media that the problem is not at the mediation, but at the conciliation level, which is directly under the control of the labour Commissioner.
“When you refer a matter to the commisioner, previously there was no separate mediation process,” Bass noted.
With the coming of this new process, mediation “is not meant to be as formal and as longwinded as the conciliation process. It is straight to the point,” he said.
If the matter is not settled during mediation hearing, Bass added, a recommendation will be made “within reasonable time” and, for him, that time is 48 hours.
He therefore urged the ABWU president to make the distinction as efforts to clear a backlog of cases continue.