In light of the recent industrial court judgment involving Arcelor Mittal and the Steel Workers’ Union of Trinidad and Tobago, the Employers Consultative Association (ECA) is suggesting that legislation be expanded or introduced to provide for the layoff process.
Layoff is an accepted practice in the field of industrial relations, which has been addressed in several judgments. For instance, Interpretation of Collective Agreement (ICA) No. 9 of 1986 between Transport and Industrial Workers Union and Consolidated Appliances Limited delivered on March 18, 1991, where, the Court recognised the right of the Company to temporarily lay-off its workers in the face of objection by the Union.
The requirement of a Company to treat with a recognised majority union for the purpose of collective bargaining is stipulated by the Industrial Relations Act (IRA) section 40. Where a recognised majority union or an employer fails to comply with this section, that party is guilty of an industrial relations offence and liable to a fine of four thousand dollars.
By virtue of a breach of section 63 of the IRA, a person in the case of an employer or a trade union is liable to a fine of $20,000 and $10,000 respectively.
Therefore, the Court found in this matter that the employer was also in breach of the dispute resolution process and fined the company $20,000.
The Company in this matter appears not to have followed the proper process with respect to what can be reasonably construed as having consultation. This resulted in a breach section 40 of the IRA.
It then failed according to the judgment to follow the dispute resolution process by proceeding to lay off the workers, thus committing a further offence under section 63 of the IRA. Also, vacation leave is an entitlement of workers and should be proceeded on at a time mutually convenient to both employer and employee. Therefore, a worker cannot be forced to proceed on vacation leave.
The judgment indicates that it is necessary for Companies to ensure that they pay particular attention to process when about to embark on a set of actions which can drastically affect the lives of its employees. Failure to do so will result in the court, which stands as a guardian for the conduct of proper industrial relations, acting in accordance with the IRA.
With respect to the closure of the plant, the Companies’ Act will take precedence since the IRA or the Retrenchment and Severance Benefit Act (RSBA) do not address the issue of closing of companies. The ECA however will continue to urge employers to engage its workers and workers representatives where applicable in meaningful consultation before embarking on any such activities.
For further information, kindly contact:
Antonette Brotherson-Brusco | Team Leader Public Relations and Communications