Monday, 03 September 2012 02:30
By caribarena news
Antigua St. John's - One of the mediators appointed to clear the hundreds of backlogged cases at the Labour Department has blasted the Labour Commissioner for failing to exercise his authority to enable the mediators to effectively carry out their duties.
Henderson Bass pulled no punches as he accused Commissioner Hesketh Williams of being lax in enforcing the act that gives him powers to summon employers to have issues resolved.
"I think we could have done more. I really don't know what the record of the other mediators look like. I can tell you quite frankly we have a serious problem in the Labour Department and the way it functions," said Bass, weeks before his one-year appointment ends.
"I tend to say there's no leadership there, unfortunately. So, for instance, a matter is postponed and you have to be behind them (officers) to get it rescheduled in reasonable time. That is the very reason we have this situation because they allow matters to hang around and get pushed aside and then new matters come around."
Trade unions were also blamed for taking a back seat on the issue rather than pressing the labour department to take action.
Bass, Ambassador Sir Keithlyn Smith and David Jonas were appointed as mediators last October. Their tenure ends this month.
During the past 10 months, Bass said, he heard less than a dozen cases, others were either postponed or settled separately by the disputing parties.
Most of the matters brought before him involved the private sector and related to unfair dismissals.
"Some of the employers did not follow proper process in making decisions, especially terminations. In fact most of the cases were related to unfair dismissal claims," he said.
"I'm disappointed with the behaviour of most of the government ministries. They don't show up, they don't indicate they're not going to come, they just don't show."
That situation led to Bass deciding earlier this year not to deal with any cases involving government ministries or agencies.
He also identified challenges with companies that have not joined the Employer's Federation, which he referred to as the ‘informal sector’.
"They make some awful decisions because they don't seem to get in tune with the laws and their attitude is ‘you can do what you want’," he explained.
Problems confronting the Labour Department are expected to be discussed with Commissioner Williams, who is due to return to work this week.
"Coming out of that particular meeting, I am hoping we can see some change...After that meeting I am expecting to see a turnaround in that department or we're going to have a lot of problems in Antigua," Bass said.
The former executive secretary of the Antigua & Barbuda Employer's Federation said he is willing to continue serving as mediator if changes are made.
"One of the things that I know we have to address is how the scheduling is done. Secondly, the Labour Department must exercise its powers of summons...I have some ideas that I'm going to put on the table if they're willing to continue the process and offer me the contract because a lot of people are out there suffering because their matters are just there," he said.
The veteran industrial relations expert estimates that the number of outstanding cases is far more than the 200 initially suspected.