The Lower House of Parliament has appproved amendments to two critical pieces of law, which speak to the rights of workers and their right to be protected.
The Labour Commissioner (Amend-ment) Bill 2017 and the Labour Code (Amendment) Act 2017 were passed on Friday, despite minor objections from the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP).
The Labour Commissioner Bill was changed to give the labour commissioner the right to enter any workplace to examine the conditions under which workers are employed.
Labour Minister Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin was the mover of the Bill. He said under the previous legislation, domestic workers had not been accounted for.
“This is triggered by a complaint made by an employee,” the minister said. “Many times we have people calling and complaining and most of the time they are not unionised. So what they do, they go directly to the labour commissioner to lodge the complaint and she must have the right to go and make the investigation. Domestic servants were never covered.”
Member of Parliament for the St John’s Rural West Constituency Baldwin Spencer expressed concern that the changes in the act could infringe on the rights of the trade unions to bargain on the behalf of workers.
He said such intentions should be carefully ventilated.
“If it could lead to an encroachment situation, we have to look at it. I think it is important for us to look more closely at this and see what the impact would be and I think I have a responsibility as a longstanding trade unionist to be able to raise the matter,” Spencer, who is also the leader of the opposition, said.
The labour minister maintained that the amendment had become necessary to reflect the need to conform to international standards and to provide the labour commissioner with the right to review the circumstances under which all employees operate.
The Lower House also approved recommended changes for the Office of National Drug Control and Money Laundering (ONDCP) to be exempted from operating under the Antigua & Barbuda Labour Code.
Benjamin said this was because the ONDCP, like the police force and the military, is recogised as a para-military body with their own codes of discipline, and ought to be exempted.
“ONDCP is a law enforcement body which peforms functions similar to that of the police and to some degree that of the Defenece Force as well. The ONDCP is therefore in the same position and faces the same situation as those bodies; it therefore does not have the same employer/employee relationship but more akin to a para-military organisation. Both the police and the ABDF have exemptions from A62 of the Labour Code,” Benjamin said.
Again, the leader of the Opposition acknowledged that while the ONDCP can be described as a para-military organisation, there are various categories of workers and this has to be taken into consideration.
“I would want to believe there would be a conflict, in my view, with the rights of what you call ordinary employees, lay employees. By going this route and making it a blanket thing, you in fact will be restricting the rights of these individuals to be protected under the very Labour Code that we have here,” Spencer said.