From the Fence
The Labour Code - Marking Time
Truth be told, the St Lucia Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture and the other private sector institutions have absolutely no difficulty with the impending enactment of a modern Labour Code into the laws of St Lucia. In fact, we welcome this initiative.
However, we remain adamant in our conviction that legislation must be fair to all involved. Regarding the Labour Code, specifically, we should not discourage or penalize the creators of employment by putting in place standards and requirements that are inconsistent with our realities and would unduly impede or deter business expansion.
A brief chronology
- In 2000 a Labour Code Task Force was appointed by the Government of St Lucia comprising public officials, i.e. representatives from the Labour Department, as well as employees (unions) and employers (Employers Federation).
- With assistance from the International Labour Organization, a consultant produced a draft Labour Code which was presented to the parties involved by the Labour Code Task Force in late 2001 for review and comments.
- Having studied that draft Code, the St Lucia Private Sector Council convened several meetings with its various members to review and comment on the proposed document. A substantive response to the contents of the draft Code was submitted to the Labour Code Task Force in 2002. In response to those comments, the ILO consultant thanked the Private Sector Council for its interest and work in reviewing the draft document but suggested that legal advice be sought to better frame the Council’s response.
- This advice was taken and with assistance from the Office of Private Sector Relations and the collective contributions of certain private firms, expert legal counsel was secured to review the draft Labour Code. The review was conducted in the context of regional labour laws and modern employment practices in the region. This extensive review was presented to the Labour Code Task Force and copied to the government and some unions in 2003 as the private sector’s response and contribution to the discussion. Interestingly, to date, the private sector has not been privy to any comments or input from the unions on the draft Code.
Since the submission of the private sector’s position and comments to the Task Force and the government, the private sector, through its various bodies (namely, the St Lucia Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture and the St Lucia Employers Federation) has urged government to respond to the review of the draft Code and hold consultations with it and other social partners before the Code is taken to Cabinet and Parliament.
Prime Minister Kenny Anthony has consistently pledged to host a retreat for all parties concerned so that consensus can be arrived at through dialogue—before the Code is made law. The private sector, through the Chamber and the Employers Federation has consistently made enquiries of government and has sought progress updates regarding the revision of the Code.
We should point out that ever since 2003 the Labour Code Task Force has not met to consider the private sector’s submissions nor has there been any reaction—official or otherwise—to its forwarded comments. Nevertheless, the private sector has maintained a keen interest in the Labour Code as evidenced by its consistent inquiries.
At this time, information sourced from the government’s Budget and from media reports arising out of government’s meetings with the unions suggests that the Labour Code will be passed in this current parliamentary term. Concurrent to this is an amendment to the Registration, Status and Recognition of Trade Unions and Employers Organization Act. This change takes away the right of employers to verify or be part of the process which determines whether the majority of workers in their firm are actually members of or are supporting the union seeking recognition. As far as we are aware, this amendment was made without any consultation with the employers.
Moreover, in both the Budget Address and the Throne Speech, government has signaled its intention to amend and bring into law some discrete sections of the Labour Code. The changes were definitively pronounced upon, without any prior consultation with the private sector. Firstly, the Holiday with Pay Act will be amended so that the minimum number of holidays to which a new employee is entitled will be increased from 14 to 21 days. Secondly, this administration has decided that it cannot wait for the government-appointed Minimum Wage Commission to conclude its deliberations on the minimum wage for workers in the construction sector; thus the minimum wage will be set at $55 a day.
Added to these moves are recently published articles attributing delays in the enactment of the Labour Code to objections made by the private sector. Clearly, the authors have failed to conduct adequate research in order to understand and accurately report on the process that the draft Code has undergone over the last four years.
Having said that, one should not—through less than rigorous investigation of the facts—create an impression that St Lucian employers are resistant to or against a new progressive and fair Labour Code. The Chamber feels comfortable saying that this is not the case. We will, as is our right and responsibility, advocate for laws and policies that invigorate and support expansion of investment, business and employment. We expect the employees’ representation to lobby for favorable terms as well. We are no less than confident that a balance can be found.
The private sector is not to blame for the delays in the enactment of the Labour Code. The Code, by its very nature, is complex and will take a long time to be properly reviewed for enactment. Barbados has been reviewing a new Labour Code for close to ten years now as we speak. Since 2003 the Code has been in the hands of the government, awaiting their action. We are anxious to see the revisions and enter into further dialogue and debate on the contents. Obviously, this will take time and as a nation we must not rush into the passage of this or any piece of legislation.
We hope government will not rush into enactment of the Labour Code for political gain. As the good carpenter says, “measure twice, cut once.”
Article supplied by the St Lucia Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture. For more information on the work of the Chamber log on to www.stluciachamber.org.