Unions criticise private sector’s position on IDT awards

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AS the controversy over the partiality of Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) rulings rages, the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) has come out criticising the private sector for the position it has taken in the matter.

The JCTU in a release issued last week, said that it noted “the attacks being levelled at the IDT” by several private sector groupings with consternation, which are claiming that the tribunal “is biased in favour of workers and, by extension, against employers”.

“They claim further that the IDT focuses too much on rules and procedures,” the JCTU said, responding that it disagrees with the position, and was placing on record its support for the tribunal, which it sees as an important labour market institution.

The JCTU criticism was aimed at four of the most important “private sector groupings”, including the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA), and the Jamaica Employers Federation (JEF).

In a joint press release last month, following public revelations of the separation package of $13 million paid to former Petrojam human resources manager, Yolande Ramharrack, the PSOJ, JMEA, JEF, and JCC complained of decisions which were unfairly made based on strict application of the code procedures.

They also claimed that the 43-year-old labour laws and labour code used in conciliation and arbitration were too complex and difficult to navigate, and were inhibiting the ability of small employers to efficiently operate their businesses.

But, the local trade unions said that they disagreed with the suggestion that the IDT was too focused on the rules and procedures.

“Our private sector partners have also put forward their ‘concern’ that the cost of carrying any matter through to conclusion at the IDT is too onerous. We have to ask the question, if the cost is too onerous on the employers, what can be said of its effect on individual workers and/or their union?” the confederation asked.

“The JCTU must point out that the IDT operates and functions within the ambit of the Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act (LRIDA), its regulations and labour code. There is no case that we are aware of that the IDT can be shown to have ignored the LRIDA, its regulations or the labour code. In fact, in the majority of instances where the awards of the IDT are challenged in courts, whether in Jamaica or at the Privy Council, the awards are upheld,” the confederation noted.

“We certainly cannot support claim that is founded primarily, it appears, on the fact that employers lose a majority of cases that go to the tribunal. It certainly cannot be argued that due process must not be observed,” the JCTU said.

The confederation also maintained that the process at the IDT is quasi-judicial in nature, and the rules that apply should therefore ensure that due process is observed, as Section 22 of the labour code requires.

“It sets out a basic disciplinary process which, if observed, any disciplinary penalty that flows therefrom will be upheld,” the unions said.

They also called on the private sector partners to “desist from casting aspersions on the IDT”, and instead ensure that the rules and procedures laid down in the law are observed.

“We further call on the grouping to ensure that their members are properly educated and trained in the use and application of the law, so that there may be fewer breaches,” the confederation added.

The private sector leaders have suggested that the recent separation settlement between Petrojam and Ramharrack highlighted their problems in seeking to address issues such as indiscipline at the workplace, or the termination of employment, based on the application of the labour relations code.

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