By:Lorna Smithen- Bussue
CHARLESTOWN (October 11, 2016) “In order to have harmony and a decent working environment, communication is very important” says Chief Labour Officer, Mr. Gary R Liburd during a recent interview on “Resolution of Conflicts in the Workplace”. The interview was conducted by Lorna Smithen- Bussue at his office in the Department of Labour, Main Street, Charlestown.
While Studies have attributed society’s success to the productivity of its workforce, Therapists report that adults spend about one third of their lives at work, resulting in workplace issues becoming a source of conflict.
In Liburd’s view “when communication has broken down, the workplace becomes chaotic and chaos will lead to a lot of disputes and additional work for the Department of Labour”.
According to him the most common disputes which the Department has had to deal with are based on wages, which he feels is the baseline for other problems, whether in connection to vacation pay, time off or overtime
“Most conflicts come about when person’s finances are affected” he said.
He also mentioned that the Department deals with other conflicting issues based on interpersonal relations of employees and employers, discriminatory behaviours of supervisors and harassment cases.
Liburd sees the role of the Department as one of monitoring relationships between employer and employee in an effort to foster harmony in the workplace and points out that conflicts are resolved by the Department based on the enforcement of the various Legislative Acts.
“Basically, the Labour Act gives the Labour Department and the Chief Labour Officer its authority. We could enter into any place of work, with or without notice. We prefer, however, to enter with notice, to let the employer know we will visit and this is the issue” he said.
He further disclosed that the first response of the Labour Department to a reported problem is to redirect the complainant to his immediate supervisor and admits that based on the nature of the problem, it may be better addressed internally. If redress fails at that level then the claimant is directed to the Human Resource Department. If even at this level the employee’s grievances cannot be resolved then the Labour Department will intervene. Upon intervention and there is no solution then the matter would be referred to the Minister of Labour who would either make recommendations or convene a meeting.
“We ask them to try and use us as a last resort because sometimes employers would say, you know they could have come to me first” he says.
Liburd is cognizant that supervisors may tend to adopt a discriminatory approach to employees.
“Sometimes employees feel, I guess from past experiences, that if they go to the supervisor they will be put down. Some employers try to penalize persons to prevent them from going to the Department of Labour. They would not let us know that they do but sometimes employees feel that if they come to the Department of Labour they can be penalized by being given less hours of work. Sometimes too, employers try to terminate their services because they were taken to Labour”.
He indicated that once the errors were pointed out to the supervisors, using the Constitution as the basis for the reprimand, they normally comply with the request to desist from discriminatory actions.
In his continued address to supervisory discrimination, Liburd said employees have requested that the Department deal with reported issues on condition of anonymity, “Sometimes we do it that way, we just go on a general inspection and then pinpoint certain issues, concerns or grievances that the person may have”.
However, he said, in the event of evidentiary issues, then the employee would have to be identified for effective adjudication of the case.
According to Chief Labour Officer, workers who are most vulnerable to discriminatory behaviours in the workplace are usually non- nationals, whose statuses are not regularized, “Persons who do not have work permits are normally underpaid, overworked and are not given their just benefits. Sometimes they are afraid to come to the Labour Department based on their status so they are abused”
Even though the Labour Department has its investigative process, complainants normally follow the procedure of their choice said Liburd. This channel usually involve the immediate Supervisor, the Department of Labour and then the Magistrate Court.
He suggests that one of the reasons for their recourse may be the speedy efficient way in which the judicial court handles such matters.
Furthermore, Liburd advised that legal prosecution is ultimately based on the information obtained from the Department of Labour and indicated the additional bonus of following the Department’s process
“If employees go to the lawyer first, the lawyers will still have to come to the Department of Labour. The Department is free but they will have to pay the lawyers” he says.
He reiterates the importance of communication in maintaining an environment that is conducive to positive work relations
“The most effective method is to have a forum for employees and employers to voice their concerns which could be done through staff meetings and morning briefings. I encourage employers to have at least one staff meeting per month. Through this you will know what grievances your employees have and you can address them and in so doing alleviate major problems”.