Hon. Dr. Kedrick Pickering, Deputy Premier and Natural Resources and Labour Minister [left] and Elton Georges, Complaints Commissioner.
Photo Credit: BVI Platinum News
In the face of stinging criticisms from Hon. Dr. Kedrick Pickering, Minister for Natural Resources and Labour, Complaints Commissioner, Mr. Elton Georges is not backing away from demanding that Government establish a Labour Tribunal.
According to Georges, the Labour Code was in preparation and discussion for many years prior to its passage in July 2010 and there was more than ample time for the Government to have laid the groundwork for the essential infrastructure to be put in place.
"The failure over this prolonged period to appoint the Tribunal is a breach of the law and has caused injustice to a number of employees who cannot feel that their grievances have been fairly addressed and determined," Georges pointed out in a statement.
He added, "The Government, in my view, should make a public statement on the position and the House of Assembly needs to look at this matter urgently to see how the continuing breach and injustices can be brought to an end as soon as possible. The needs of the several working people affected by this matter require this kind of attention."
Georges pointed out that in late October, he wrote to Minister Pickering to express regret that he had to consider the submission of a special report to the House in a case that a poor woman had failed to get anywhere with an approach to the Labour Department about the failure of her employers to pay her regular wages for months and to pay overtime or vacation pay for years.
Mr. Georges pointed out that the original complaint to Labour was made in September 2010 and an investigation report to the Department and Ministry in February 2012.
"The point of main concern for this statement is that successive administrations have failed in 24 months to appoint the key body of the Labour Code, 2010 for final dispute resolution: the Arbitral Tribunal," Mr. Georges stated.
He alluded that the Labour Code stipulates that if the Labour Commissioner fails to bring about a settlement between employee and employer within 30 days, she must refer the complaint to the Minister with her report.
Mr. Georges stated that the Minister then attempts to get the parties to agree, but if he fails to do so within 21 days, then he must refer the dispute to a Board of Inquiry set up by the Minister for the particular case or to the Arbitral Tribunal that the Code says must be in place.
He noted that the referral to a board would be indicated for the sort of individual complaint where the employment is not an essential service and no danger to the health or safety of employees or the public is involved. However, Mr. Georges also stated that the parties must agree beforehand to accept the recommendation of the board.
"If they do not, then the Minister must refer the matter to the Tribunal," Mr. Georges shared.
He stated that in the case he wrote the Minister about, the dispute was eventually sent to the Minister some 18 months, rather than 30 days after it was first filed and the Minister attempted a settlement, without success.
"The Ministry informed us in midyear that it would be referred to the Tribunal but no Tribunal has yet been put in place," Mr. Georges stated.
He pointed out that the Tribunal should consist of three persons including the Chairman, who must be an experienced attorney-at-law of ten years standing.
According to Mr. Georges, the Tribunal operates independently and its decisions are binding on the parties, except for an appeal to the High Court on a point of law only.
He stated that the Ministry for Natural Resources and Labour, from information that the Permanent Secretary provided, made an attempt earlier in this year to have the Tribunal appointed, but by July the attempt had apparently fallen through over last minute difficulties that developed in negotiations with the prospective Chairman.
Mr. Georges stated that he was assured that fresh attempts to secure another Chairman were underway.
Article Published December 17
Deputy Premier and Minister for Natural Resources and Labour, Hon. Dr. Kedrick Pickering paused during the ongoing budget debate to deliver a scathing criticism against Complaints Commissioner, Elton Georges.
The Deputy Premier noted that they have all been bombarded by the Complaints Commissioner and confidential reports.
"I hope he is listening. The way things were and the way things used to be cannot be the way going forward. You can't run a country where every single thing has to have a memo; you got to write everything?" Deputy Premier Pickering asked during the debate today, December 17.
He suggested that the Complaints Commissioner could telephone a Minister or head of department sometimes and ask a simple question, instead of writing "some long memo literally castigating the head of department".
The Deputy Premier pointed out that the memo goes on the individual's file and it is demeaning.
"We cannot run a country like that," the Deputy Premier stated.
He noted that the Complaints Commissioner criticized the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour for not referring issues to the Labour Tribunal for resolution. However, Hon. Pickering stated that a simple phone call could have basically explained that there are extreme difficulties in trying to set up the tribunal.
"We cannot find somebody to serve in the position as head of the tribunal. We went so far as to getting Cabinet's approval for somebody, but who six months later declined the position because of work commitments and since then we have been butting our heads to find somebody to head the tribunal...But he [Mr. Georges] keep writing these memos that we need to refer. Where we going to refer to tribunal and we ain't got none. He wouldn't even pick up the phone and ask a simple question...but he write some long confidential memo that goes on the Permanent Secretary file; it cannot go on my file because I ain't got no file," the Deputy Premier stated.
He said his statement was a complaint against the Complaints Commissioner.
"He [Mr. Georges] needs to change his approach. I hope he is listening. This old school boy way of writing people memo, trying to frighten people; tell him to change that and the country can run better. You cannot develop the human capital of the country when you keep intimidating people. That needs to change man and I hope he hears that. He and I can sit down and debate it over a cup of juice," Hon. Pickering stated.
The key roles of the Commissioner includes to consider complaints relating to matter of mal administration by a department of Government and or public authorities by conducting independent and impartial investigations, to report on the complaints considered, including a summary of how they have been resolved, the commissioner's findings and the recommendations made, to appoint mediators where necessary to help resolve disputes and to promote public awareness of the role of the complaints commissioner.
The Commissioner's role is also to encourage all public officers and authorities to respond constructively to complaints made directly to them.