Paternity Leave, Retirement Age, Sexual Harassment among issues being considered for revised Employment Protection Act
A luncheon hosted by the Chamber of Commerce this Tuesday facilitated the airing of grievances by the business sector with the Protection of Employment Act, which is in the process of being redrafted.
Issues such as the inclusion of paternity leave in the draft law, sexual harassment at the workplace, the abuse of sick leave, the lack of an effective enforcement mechanism, and the removal of demotion as a disciplinary action, were only some of what was discussed at Beachcombers hotel.
Members of the Chamber of Commerce attended the luncheon, their first for 2019, sponsored by Select Pasta and Facey Trading, particularly to hear a presentation by economist Steve Stewart from the Labour Department on the reform of the Act.
Executive Director for the Chamber of Commerce, Anthony Regisford, commented on the importance of the private sector having the discussion. “We have to put things in the context of where we are today, in the 21st century,” he noted. “The workforce and the work environment…is not what is was when the legislation for Protection of Employment was written,” Regisford explained, citing the changes ushered in by the fourth industrial revolution.
Stewart is leading the reform of the Act, which is the principal legislation governing labour and employment in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The economist revealed that the review through a consultancy project funded by the World Bank, started in February and will end in September, 2019.
There have already been two rounds of consultations and much has already been discussed.
Stewart noted that there have been calls for a standard retirement age to be included rather than it vary based on a company’s internal policy, and it is also being considered whether or not an employee may be terminated for receiving a criminal conviction unrelated to their job.
On the issue of demotion as a disciplinary action, Stewart says the recommendation is to remove it as one such action. “The impact that that would have on one’s motivation, their morale, and their productivity,” should be considered, he reviewed.
Certain fines in the Act are likely to be increased by five and 10 times; and ambiguous terms defined clearly.
Paternity leave as an entitlement with specific conditions may also be added.
Some employees abuse sick leave, it has been observed, especially uncertified sick leave. “It is not an entitlement, you still have to prove that you are in fact ill. So we are aware that there are some employees who abuse it for whatever reason, because if you are on sick leave you are required to be paid,” Stewart stated, saying that this will be cleared up.
Severance pay is required to be paid forthwith by the current Act, but employers who are unable to do so, agree to a payment plan, but this may not be followed through. The suggestion is that there will be definitive periods for payment of severance. Domestic workers are also currently not entitled to severance pay, so the revised law should provide coverage for these persons.
Further, “The issue of sexual harassment and violence at the work place. A lot has been said on that as well.”
After Stewart outlined what has already been discussed, questions from the members followed, which included clarifications, grievances expressed on the issue of social media being used to contact employees outside of work, inquiries on the exact definition of sexual harassment, and the abuse of sick leave.
One businessman was concerned about the enforcement mechanism at the Labour Office, and told a story of an individual whose employer was judged to owe him $2000, and this employer decided to pay him $200 over 10 years. “And every time he goes to the Labour Office to complain, he gets no redress.,” the man commented.
“We would have admitted this during … our focus group meetings. It came out very forcefully, where the enforcement mechanisms at the Labour Department …[are] quite ineffective, weak, I daresay,” Stewart admitted.
“We are trying to make sure the new revised Act has the teeth that is necessary to provide the enforcement mechanism,” he assured.