Employers’ Federation wants more discussions on planned changes to Labour Code

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The Antigua and Barbuda Employers’ Federation has gone public to indicate it does not support a number of proposed changes outlined in the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Code Amendment 2019, contrary to what was indicated in Parliament last week by the mover of the Bill, Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin.

Benjamin has already responded, saying he is surprised to hear this, since the association was engaged in the discussions for a long time regarding the pending changes.

According to him, the organisation’s representatives never opposed revising the issue of the payment of severance to employees when there is a change of ownership of a company, along with the issue of fixed term contracts for posts that are permanent in nature and under a collective bargaining agreement.

The Federation issued a statement on Thursday, exactly a week after the Labour Code amendment 2019 was passed in the House of Representatives.

The respected and influential body said while it participated in the consultations on amending the code, it has a different stance on the two issues mentioned.

It wrote, “Section C7A “Contract Workers” which reads: “A fixed term contract shall not be issued to an employee for a position which is permanent in nature or which is covered by a collective bargaining agreement”. The issue here is “permanent in nature”. Does this refer to all categories of employment?”

The communique added that if this is so, then there is an issue that needs to be addressed.

The issue is that there’s a general practice where managers are employed on contracts.

“There are also situations where a fixed term contract is required for a position which may be permanent in nature; for example, coverage for employees on study/duty or other leaves of absence. Additionally, the amendment does not address an established practice where employment is broken, and an employee is given a “rest” between contracts,” the Federation stated.

On the issue of severance, under Section C 44, which is titled “Limitations on severance pay; offer of equivalent employment”, the association said it “believes that the proposals outlined will change the fundamental principle of employment. The principle being for workers to retain their jobs and conditions of employment, as long as their performance conforms to acceptable standards. It is the Federation’s position that job retention should take precedence over the name of the employer.”

The body said it does not believe a change of ownership is a true case of redundancy and or a situation where severance should become payable.

It is for that reason the Federation is suggesting that the definition of redundancy would have to be amended.

Having reviewed the Federation’s statement, Benjamin reiterated that the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Code Amendment Bill 2019 was circulated nationally before it was taken to Parliament for debate last week, and the Employers Federation was involved in the process long before that.

“For years, Mr. Pedro Corbin from the Employer’s Federation was chairman of the National Labour Board, and even after he retired, at all material times, the present representative of the Employers Federation was a part of the National Labour Board,” he said.

Benjamin said the minutes and records of all the meetings of the National Labour Board would prove that the Federation was fully informed and it contributed to the process to develop the proposed law.

He further stated that when the Bill was circulated, the Antigua and Barbuda Hotels and Tourist Association was the only group which reached out and asked for a discussion and explanation of the proposals.

Meanwhile, the attorney general said that although the Employers Federation is only now making its position known, the organisation ought not to worry because there are plans for a more comprehensive review of the Labour Code in the near future.

The proposed Amendments to the labour code were passed in the Lower House on March 28. It now has to go to the Senate for debate. Then, the governor general has to give his approval before it is published in the Gazette and becomes law.

 Bearing these in mind, the Federation said it “anticipates the opportunity for there to be continued dialogue so that a more comprehensive approach can be taken.”

It noted that it is looking forward to a review of the entire Labour Code and not just the few areas currently before the Parliament.

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