AG pledges overhaul of labour laws

Minister of Labour Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin (File photo)
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By Latrishka Thomas

Discussions are to begin shortly regarding significant changes to key laws governing employment practices and labour relations.

Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin has pledged alterations to both the country’s Labour Code and Industrial Court Act.

Earlier this year, the latter was amended to allow for the establishment of a vice president, enabling two sittings of the Industrial Court to take place simultaneously, thus making its operations more efficient.

On Thursday, speaking at a ceremony to hand over the new Industrial Court facility, its president Charlesworth Browne welcomed that move but said, “in our humble estimation – speaking on my own behalf and on behalf of the members of the court – we think that the time has come for deeper and more extensive and comprehensive revision of the Industrial Court Act and the Labour Code”.

Benjamin responded to Browne saying, “it is my intention to go back to parliament to amend the Act further so that we can have virtual sittings”.

The AG, who is also the Minister for Legal Affairs, revealed that discussions will also be held to determine which of two views concerning conciliation is correct.

“There are some persons who are of the view that once a matter is sent to the Labour Department it must be settled at first instance. The other view is that when the matter goes before the Labour Department they should try to attempt settlement; if not, it’s sent to the minister and his designee … who can refer the matter back to the Labour Department and it is at that stage where adjudication comes in,” Benjamin explained.

He also reiterated that “there will be this year … a complete revision of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Code”.

Just recently, the House of Representatives passed amendments to the Labour Code to make employees entitled to severance pay if their place of work is being sold or disposed of to a successor-employer.

Another modification turned contract workers into permanent staff.

According to Benjamin, further shifts are imperative to ensure that matters involving employer-employee relationships are dealt with “expeditiously, justly and in a fair manner”.

He said that as the relevant laws were passed in the 1970s “it is absolutely necessary to take these factors into consideration and to bring these Acts up to date to the present circumstances in which we find ourselves”.

Benjamin also urged Browne and his team to “use six months as the benchmark to deliver every judgement that comes before you”.

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