Private sector accused of using pandemic as a ploy for mass layoffs
Dwaine Paul, Deputy General Secretary and Director of Industrial Relations at the Barbados Workers Union.
The Barbadian private sector has been accused of exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic for financial gain.
Dwaine Paul, Deputy General Secretary and Director of Industrial Relations at the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) charged that local employers were using the global crisis as an excuse to lay off staff, cut wages and force employees to enter "unscrupulous" contract agreements.
"Everything single thing in Barbados is COVID-19. The bus late, it is COVID-19. Everything single thing is wrapped up in that conversation and some companies are milking it for all that it is worth in terms of negatively changing the working conditions of workers," Paul said.
Speaking to the local media at the union's Solidarity House headquarters on Thursday, Paul contended that he believed employers would transition from full-time employment contracts with benefits to casual contracts with no benefits in an effort to cut costs and minimise their responsibilities.
"When you listen to some of the HR practitioners speak that represent some of the entities that represent companies in Barbados you get the sense that to avoid some of this liability going forward that the new work model should be casual workers on temporary contracts where they have no rights to anything. You don’t have to pay NIS for them, they can't be severance because they don’t work for you, they are casual so you avoid all of this by using short term contracts and casualised staff.
"For all, we are picking up on the ground that is what we believe all the employers will be hastening to, in terms of converting our workforce from full time engaged persons to casual contracts and that has started before and we believe this pandemic will be used as a cover to create such."
Paul argued that employers wanted the "best of both worlds": a self-employed person in terms of compensation but an employee in relation to the ability to manage their tasks.
"They want the best of both worlds. I want to be able to direct everything that you do but I still want to pay you as though you are working for yourself," he remarked.
The Director of Industrial Relations said there was an "industrial relations crisis" occurring in Barbados as mass layoffs were being undertaken and companies were breaching the Employment Rights Act and other labour laws.
He revealed that several companies were able to survive the pandemic by unilaterally cutting salaries of their employees, an act with is in breach of labour legislation.
"There are many other companies in Barbados who financed itself through COVID by taking money from workers and they are not repaying it, and there is a willful silence on this issue of salary cutting and workers being the rights to demand that they get back their money.
The commercial banks have said that they are full of capital. They didn’t go to them because you have to pay interest but you took my money in an ultimatum which left me with no choice in some cases and now there is nothing to say you have to pay me it back and there is absolute silence on it coming from the Government towards action in making sure that private sector interests understand that they cannot do that to workers," Paul disclosed.