The government has announced a plan to relocate and expand the Industrial Court as workers decry conditions at the current location on Friendly Alley, and as the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) laments the halting of new cases and backlog of old cases.
The Chief of Staff within the Office of the Prime Minister, Lionel “Max” Hurst, told OBSERVER media yesterday that the new location is likely to be on Old Parham Road once the building passes the necessary inspections.
According to Hurst, the approval process should take no longer than a few weeks, with the relocation occurring by the first week of October. He said this move will yield more results than any attempt to immediately resume or expand services at the current building which does not have room for additional staff.
“The object of the move is to ensure that the court can resume doing its work. It would also mean, by the way, that there would be some expansion in the employee base and it would enable decision making to be delivered with far more rapidity than is the case. Our hope is that we can elevate it so that it really does reflect the kind of efficiency for which we are aiming,” he said.
Hurst explains that the building which the Industrial Court currently occupies has a number of problems and, as a result, the staff were at one point working fewer hours.
“The current building which is occupied by the court is really in a terrible state. It leaks. It does not provide the kind of dignity associated with the kinds of undertakings which an Industrial Court is designed to hear. [They need] a building deserving for the type of work. That building is on Old Parham Road,” he said.
Hurst did not disclose who owns the building, but he said there is a somewhat long process that has to be undergone before the approval is given to use the building.
“Public Works Department has to take undertake an entire inventory before the building can be occupied – the roof, sewage, AC, space, state of the flooring – all the factors that would determine if they are moving from a place that is not so good to a place that is far better,” he said.
Earlier this week, Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin said there were 59 employee/employer related cases with outstanding judgments before the Industrial Court and those must be addressed before the court can resume sitting.
General Secretary of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union Chester Hughes criticised the court’s closure, saying the attorney general and government ought to hire additional manpower to ensure the court continues to operate and individuals get access to swift justice.