WORKERS IN BARBADOS should not be reduced to protesting and begging for what is rightfully theirs.
And when such a situation is played out before the public, it is even worse.
That’s why the drama that unfolded outside the Transport Board’s Weymouth headquarters on Thursday, with former employees bitterly complaining about receiving only a fraction of the severance pay owed them after they were sent home in February, should never have happened.
It was dehumanising and reflected negatively on the board and, by extension, the Government.
What was most disturbing about it, though, was why it happened. Certainly, when a decision is taken to send home people, thought should be given to how the money would be sourced to pay them as required by law.
Assuming such due diligence occurred, subsequent events raise these questions: Is the board technically insolvent? Are Government’s finances so badly compromised that they cannot support one of their corporations in paying severed employees?
The fact is, the majority of these former employees did not stop working at the board because they wanted to. The board was haemorrhaging heavily and had to downsize, so most of those sent home were selected by the administration to be severed under the Severance Payments Act.
Under Section 3A of that statute, when a worker is severed he or she should be paid what is owed to them “within two months of it becoming due, or within such longer period not exceeding four months”.
It continues: “Where a severance payment that is required to be paid by an employer under Section 3 has not been paid within the period specified in subsection (1), interest calculated on the unpaid severance payment at such rate as the minister responsible for finance may fix by order is payable by the employer from the expiration of the period.”
The board therefore had a legal obligation to each employee severed in February to pay them no later than July. Having paid them a fraction on Thursday with a promise of the remainder by next month, the board should be paying interest on the monies owed.
Even without this knowledge, the former employees had a legitimate expectation that their employer, having dismissed them, would pay them their due in a reasonable time. By not fulfilling this expectation, the board has acted unlawfully and immorally too. Equally distasteful is the manner in which these former workers were dealt with. Where was the sensitivity and compassion?
There should have been appropriate communication from the highest level to each worker, informing them beforehand of the part-payment and why it was necessary. Given the protests two weeks earlier, that should have been a priority. Though most of the workers would have been disappointed, at least they would have known beforehand and most, we’re sure, would have appreciated that call. The probability of protest would have been minimised too.
The handling of this affair leaves much to be desired. The board needs to redeem its image by expediting payment for these workers and apologising for the unsatisfactory treatment.