Union calls for labour reforms

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    A call is being made for Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus to bring legislative reforms to protect workers.

    It comes from President of the All Trinidad General Workers’ Union (ATGWU), Nirvan Maharaj who claims thousands are losing their jobs and also seeking employment.

    He believes it is imperative that Government deal with outstanding labour reforms and implementation of the Workers’ Agenda, one of the foundation pillars that helped propel them into power.

    Mr Maharaj has proposed some recommendations on how this can be done.

    1. There is an immediate need for simultaneous reform to the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act and the Company’s Act, in order to protect workers and ensure that they paid all benefits, as if they are major creditors, in the event of the windup of a Company. This is to ensure that Companies cannot use full retrenchment as an excuse to escape their financial obligations to Workers who depend upon a salary for day to day living and are more in need of compensation in the event of the wind-up, than Creditors such as Financial Institutions or State Entities, who can be buffered by their own profits or by the State.

    2. The reform of the Registration, Recognition and Certification board is also needed since Unions often face the daunting task of applications for recognition taking years to process and in some cases recognition being granted after some Companies have closed down. The process must take no longer than three months. In addition Unions must have the right to query decisions made by the Board, in the event that a Union feels that it has been unfairly done by, with regard to a recognition decision, without having to spend huge sums of money to seek judicial review of the Board’s decision.

    3. It is also essential that an Indemnity Fund be established with a guaranteed security by the Government, to which foreign based Companies must contribute, which can then be utilized to provide financial benefits to workers in the event of the wind-up of a foreign Company and/or the upholding of any judgments made against these Companies by our legal jurisdiction. That is in cases as has happened, where Foreign based Companies simply close up, leave our shores, with Workers financial benefits, through a Severance Package or Court Judgment, being left stranded and in limbo.

    4. There must be a reform of the process of hiring Industrial Court Judges since this seems to be the purview of the political directorate and linked to this is the urgent need for security of tenure of Judges and adequate compensation to ensure fair and impartial Judgments at all times and the maintaining of the independence of the Industrial Court.

    5. There must be reform of the Act to ensure that the Industrial Court is able to enforce the awards and judgments it delivers. As it stands the Industrial Court has no powers of enforcement and judgments have to be registered at the level of the High Court for said judgments to become awards of the High Court, and enforced at that level. This is very expensive and also undermines the jurisdiction of the Industrial Court. Many Companies ignore awards and judgments knowing that the process can be daunting for Unions and ordinary workers.

    6. It may even be necessary to disband the present structure of the Industrial Court as a separate entity and while upholding the Principles of its own jurisprudence, make the Industrial Court a division of the High Court of Justice, thereby giving it, the powers of enforcement of the High Court of Justice with the same legal legitimacy, status and respect.

    7. It is also imperative that the question of Cost should not apply to Industrial Court judgments which are appealed. Trade Disputes in the interest of the ordinary man should not be subjected to an award of cost. Many companies use this method of appealing judgments knowing fully well that many ordinary workers and even Unions may be hard pressed to enforce a judgment because of the fear of having to pay not only their legal fees but additional cost as well.