By Kevon Browne
St Kitts and Nevis (WINN): With thousands of people out of work and seeking urgent financial support, due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, officials are having a closer look at existing labour laws.
Employment issues were the subject of discussion on “Justice in the New Normal: Crisis Meets Opportunity”, a panel discussion organized by the St. Kitts and Nevis Bar Association.
Here is Labour Commissioner Ms. Shernel James on the shortcomings of the existing labour code in protecting employees who were made redundant because of a stoppage of work due to a government sanction.
“Because it happened under… a stoppage of work because of law, these workers should not be penalized, and so we are advising employers that they can rehire these people. But when they do rehire them, it should be under a new contract of employment … our law does not speak to this; this is something new that is evolving because of the COVID-19 pandemic and so the Department of Labor, through the Minister of Labor, will go through the National Tripartite Committee and bring before them this issue so that when in the new year we begin to roll out the new…
“Draft Labor Code that this particular aspect should be included under it so that these workers will be protected and ensure the continuity of employment as well as the operations of these businesses.”
Human Resources Manager of Kittitian Hill Mrs. Akila Browne Edinborough, spoke about the difficulties of navigating operations and the necessary adjustments and pivots to continue work even from home, especially managing employees remotely in terms of accountability.
“We’re seeing where persons are not as for lack of a better term committed or not performing as they would if they were working in the office, [performance] levels have someone drop because you know we have all of these things going on behind the scenes and in our homes that it sometimes had to keep up with the demands. So that too is causing a bit of a strain.”
Other challenges that employers are now facing are in relation to dealing with redundancy, re-hiring, vacation pay, and generally staying afloat.
According to the General Counsel of the St. Christopher and Nevis Social Security Board Mr. Leon Charles, the pandemic has also changed the way/will change the way Social Security approaches its benefits going forward…
“We have seen a transition from what was the norm to what appears to will be the new norm going forward in terms of how employers have to address how they treat their workers. What is considered a place of work? How you treat vacation leave, etc … These are the issues that are now coming forward and from my own area, my own corner which is Social Security, we have seen several challenges coming forward in terms of how we are going to treat the effect of the pandemic in relation to the benefits that are paid to persons.”
He noted an increase in the number of claims from Social Security as a result of people being laid off and explained that without any employment activity and income there would have been no need for the employer to submit returns which puts the employee at a disadvantage if certified ill sometime in the future.
And, because of a lack of recent wages, there is no basis for the short-term benefits including sickness claims.
Although there were some instances of employees having to take a vacation to avoid redundancy, whether voluntarily or by employer instruction, James stated, that due to the lockdown being government-sanctioned and enforced, employees should not have had to take their vacation during the lockdown.
“An employer can say … we understand the circumstance in which we are presently in and if could they could afford to pay them the holiday pay they ought to have done so rather than forcing the worker who is already on a mandatory lockdown to take days that are rightfully due to them because they earned it. And so these workers, if the employer could not at least offer the vacation pay there or not to have lost days which they would have rightfully earned under the law.”
Conversely, Charles, from the perspective of the employer, stated as it pertains to the mandatory lockdown, employees should not be paid for the time where they are not producing as that would be at a cost to companies.
Member of the St. Kitts and Nevis Bar Association and partner at Hazel Alleyne Law Firm, Deniece Alleyne moderated the discussion organized as part of a public education drive.
The St. Kitts and Nevis Bar Association is celebrating Law Week 2020 from November 1-7
The full list of activities for Law Week 2020:
Sunday, November 1 – Church Services on both islands
Monday, November 2 – Mock Trial with CFBC Students
Tuesday, November 3 – Education Symposium on WINN
Wednesday, November 4 – Presentation to the Flamboyant Nursing Home on Nevis
Thursday, November 5 – Virtual Continuation of Legal Education Symposium
Saturday, November 7 – Hike to Saddle Hill, Nevis and HASH walk to Romney Manor