The Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act (LRIDA) in 1975 forever changed the landscape of industrial relations and employment law. It is now accepted that a dismissal can be lawful but unfair or unjustifiable at the same time. Employers were told to care for the human feelings and dignity of the worker. But what many people seem to forget is that employers are humans and have those same feelings too. While it is clear that workers are in an inherent position of weakness in an employment arrangement so their rights must be jealously guarded, this writer asserts that employers also have rights that are to be guarded as well.
Employers should be cognisant that the Ministry of Labour is not a facility exclusively for employees and their grouses. Employers have just as much right to bring a matter there. Section 2 of the LRIDA states that industrial dispute includes “any matter affecting the rights and duties of an employer”. Why is it, then, that there is a paucity of cases brought by employers? Employers are presented with tough decisions daily, especially the decision to terminate an employee’s contract where serious disciplinary matters are concerned such as theft, habitual lateness or gross insubordination. However, thanks to the prevailing sentiment in the industrial relations community, the impression received seems to be that not many persons care enough about how these employees and their actions affect employers and their businesses. As a result, employers may not even be aware that they have a right to bring certain problems they have with employees to the Ministry.
Many in the legal fraternity, including the Jamaican Bar Association have called for the Labour Relations Code to be amended to provide a more balanced approach. Until then, there is one thing that employers who find themselves in a situation with troublesome workers can do – assert your right to have your own industrial disputes heard before the Ministry and the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT). Flip the script and let troublesome employees answer for their misdeeds before the IDT in order to provide more balance. There is no reason why an employee should not compensate an employer where the employer’s organisation has been harmed because of an employee’s indiscretion. The IDT must begin to significantly reduce the awards given to employees in these instances to show employers that their rights are being protected.
Much has been done by governments of the day to protect workers, and this should be commended. However, it is high time for employers to receive some protection where it is warranted. Industrial harmony cannot be achieved when employers feel that they are being taken advantage of by the system. The Labour Relations Code and the IDT were created with the purest of intentions but perhaps they are producing what they were created to prevent – unfairness in the workplace.
Adrian Cotterell is an Associate at Myers, Fletcher and Gordon in the litigation department and the labour and employment law practice group. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can visit the firm’s website at www.myersfletcher.com. This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.