JIS News

The House of Representatives has passed legislation granting access to the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) to non-unionised workers, who have disputes with their employers.
Opening the debate on the amendments to the Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act (LRIDA) on Tuesday (October 6), Minister of Labour and Social Security, Hon. Pearnel Charles, said that currently he is unable to use any of the provisions of the Act to refer disputes involving non-unionised workers to the IDT to be resolved.
He said that, despite the restrictions, since the inception of the Act in 1975, Ministers of Labour had referred matters relating to non-unionised workers to the IDT. But, in 1986, the practice was “severely curtailed”, following a landmark ruling by the Full Court in a matter involving West Indies Yeast Limited.
Mr. Charles noted that, in that case, the Court ruled that “the scheme of the LRIDA only contemplates disputes between an employer and a non-unionised worker, where this dispute threatens industrial peace”.
“The ultimate importance of the decision, therefore, was that the Minister could no longer refer these types of matters to the IDT, as it is highly unlikely that a dispute between a non-unionised worker and his employer will threaten industrial peace, so that the Minister may intervene,” Mr. Charles explained.
He said that with a ratio of four non-unionised workers to every unionised worker in Jamaica, the Ministry’s Pay and Conditions of Service branch has come under severe pressure, with as many as 6,000 complaints from these workers in 2008.
Mr. Charles said that the proposed Bill seeks to “level the playing field”, by granting the unionised worker access to the IDT, even in the absence of an impending industrial dispute.
This has been accomplished by amending Section 11A of the LRIDA, removing the need for it to be shown that the dispute needs to be settled expeditiously, or that industrial action is likely to be taken or contemplated, before the Minister can refer the matter to the IDT.
The amendments are also strengthened by widening the definitions of “industrial dispute” and “undertaking” in section 2 of the Act.
The definition of “industrial dispute” has been expanded, to include circumstances involving workers who are not members of trade unions having bargaining rights. The Act has also been amended to widen the definition of “undertaking”, to include trades and businesses which employ only one worker.
There is also an amendment removing the current stipulation that the Minister must be satisfied that the issue has to be settled expeditiously, and allowing the Minister to refer the dispute, even if industrial is not being taken or contemplated.
The Second Schedule was also amended, allowing the Minister to increase the number of Deputy Chairmen of the IDT, to include a Deputy Chairman who will assess the disputes involving non-unionised workers before a decision is made on whether they should be referred to the Tribunal or not.
The amendments were supported by the Opposition’s spokesman on Labour, Derrick Kellier, who said that Jamaica needed a first class, or “cutting edge” industrial relations system to survive, and that this must be facilitated by the Government.
“The maxim that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ rings true,” Mr. Kellier said.

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