BY THE TIME Tropical Storm Chantal had passed, a new storm was brewing in Barbados yesterday.
Employers who called out workers to their jobs before the country’s Department of Emergency Management had issued an “all-clear” were lambasted all over, from the social media to call-in programmes, and Government has been officially critical of the move as well.
And two private sector organizations, the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Barbados Employers’ Confederation, have warned against the practice.
Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo is now warning employers to “let common sense prevail” in the future, and not pressure workers to come to their jobs during a national storm warning, unless Government has determined it is safe to do so.
“I understand their (employers’) concerns. We are in tough economic times, and the bottom line is important. It would be a day of productivity lost, but in these circumstances common sense should prevail,” she said.
“I wouldn’t say it is a case of greed, but employers have to see their workers as important and should secure their well-being as well, like they would their own property.”
Byer-Suckoo noted that workers in Barbados still had th
e right to refuse a task from an employer, if they considered that task to be dangerous. “The Employment Rights Bill speaks to refusing dangerous tasks, and workers are protected in law. Barbadians should stay indoors in circumstances like yesterday, until an all-clear is given by the authorities,” the minister reiterated.
She said that the only people who should have been on the job before the all-clear was given just after 11 a.m. yesterday were essential service providers such as employees of special Government agencies, the Department of Emergency Management, the Barbados Fire Service, the Barbados Defence Force, the Royal Barbados Police Force, and certain workers at Grantley Adams International Airport.
“I do hope that any workers who opted not to go to work yesterday before the all-clear, either because they had no public transportation, or because they chose not to, are not penalized in any way.”
Carlton and Emerald City Supermarkets’ managing director Andrew Bynoe, whose businesses were open before the all-clear was given, told the MIDWEEK NATION: “We always have an emergency staff in place for hurricane preparedness. The skeleton staff that showed up were not coerced.We provided transport for those who wanted,” he added.
Bynoe also said that his company’s tracking of the storm showed that Barbados would not be “overly affected” by the system.
Efforts to reach Channell Supermarket’s manager Anthony Catlyn for comment yesterday proved unsuccessful.
Minister of Home Affairs Adriel Brathwaite also weighed in on the decision by some employers to have workers on the job before the all-clear.
“If we are saying that there are storm conditions and that persons should not venture out until we give the all-clear, which is more important? Earning a dollar or saving someone’s life?” he asked.
“On a strict moral position, I really have a problem with workers being asked to come out when in fact we are saying that there are storm conditions which means that it is dangerous and we are encouraging you to stay at home and you are being encouraged to come out to work in what are obviously non-essential services,” he said yesterday.
Brathwaite, who is also Attorney General, said he had contacted the Solicitor General as he needed to examine the strict legal position on the issue.
“The strict legal position, we will examine it later today or tomorrow because it is something that we have been looking at in terms of what powers we have outside of the emergency powers to prevent persons from going on to the street.” (BA)