Today is a red-letter day in this Territory. Since taking on the leadership of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour I have been moving forward in a very calculated, yet cautious, manner to ensure that the residents of this Territory are well served.
There were many vexing problems raised during a series of Town Hall meetings which require our urgent attention. These problems range from the inadequacy of the current minimum wage to unfair treatment of some employees by some employers. There were also issues raised from the employers’ perspective as well, such as the inappropriate use of sick days by employees; poor job performance, and behavioral issues.
These meetings were very beneficial as they brought together the people and Government in a collaborative fashion to deal with the labour issues. These meetings resulted in:
- the restructuring of the Labour Department for greater efficiency; which translated to the appointment of Mrs. Janice Rymer, former Deputy Secretary in the Ministry, to the post of Labour Commissioner.
- the revisiting of the policy on granting of work permit exemptions, particularly those based on the Minister’s Discretion;
- the timely fulfilling of our obligations to the International Labour Organization (ILO) by way of reporting; and
- the creation of an Employment Services Unit within the Labour Department with its main function being that of ensuring that BVIslanders are given a fair chance at finding gainful employment.
I want to publically thank the businesses for following through and notifying the Labour Department of vacancies.
I recognize that firms will continue to make decisions that ensure their survival, especially in this competitive climate.
This policy is not intended to create confusion in the labour market nor is it intended to have employers fighting tooth and nail, as it were, for every work permit. What is hoped is that we begin to achieve some semblance of balance within the labour market while allowing enough flexibility to allow the labour market to function.
Ensuring that the labour market functions properly and to international standards lead to the establishment of the Labour Dispute Tribunal as is required by the Labour Code 2010. Of equal importance was the selection and subsequent appointment of someone of reputable character and who meets the standards outlined in the Code.
With that in mind, I approached Mr. Paul Dennis, QC; he accepted the challenge and was subsequently appointed by Cabinet to serve for a period of two years as the Chairman of the Labour Dispute Tribunal. Mr. Paul Dennis QC possesses the requisite experience and qualifications as delineated in Section 29 (3) of the Labour Code 2010 which states: “The Chairperson shall be an attorney-at-law of at least ten years’ standing, and shall be appointed by the Minister in consultation with Cabinet for a period of two years.” His professional experience dates back to 6th December, 1984 when he was admitted to the Bar in Jamaica. He began his career first as Clerk of the Courts, Crown Counsel, Assistant Director of Public Prosecution, and Acting Deputy Director of Public Prosecution in his homeland Jamaica.
Additionally, Mr. Dennis, QC has contributed professionally in various organizations and committees such as the BVI Bar Association, Council Member of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States Bar Association, Legal Profession Act Committee and the BVI Court System Review Committee.
Other contributions made by Mr. Dennis QC were, providing legal aid and acting as a legal resource person to the BVI Women’s Desk now the Department of Gender Affairs. There is no uncertainty that Mr. Dennis QC is capable of this undertaking and can provide the leadership that is required. I have no doubt that this Tribunal, guided by Mr. Dennis QC, shall in the exercise of its powers,
(1) “make orders or awards as it considers fair and just having regard to the interests of the persons concerned and the community as a whole and
(2) act in accordance with equity, good conscience and the substantial merits of the case before it having regard to the principles and practices of good industrial relations.”
Throughout this process we have worked very closely with the ILO Sub-Regional Office and the Industrial Court of Trinidad and Tobago, both based in Trinidad and Tobago, to ensure that the Labour Dispute Tribunal is established in the most efficient and effective manner possible.
You will recall that on February 9th the President and Treasurer of the Industrial Court of Trinidad and Tobago, Honourable Deborah Thomas Felix and Mr. Noel Inniss, respectively, visited the Territory and conducted two days of meetings with the Ministry and the Labour Department. The Industrial Court of Trinidad and Tobago has been in existence for over fifty (50) years and is well positioned to guide us on this most important milestone relative to labour matters in the Territory.
And I may add also, that in July of this year, Mr. Dennis, QC and the Labour Commissioner travelled to Trinidad to undergo direct and specific insight and training on how the court actually functions, to add value to the Tribunal.
As the Territory’s Minister for Labour, I view with interest the severe complexity of the concerns facing the public and I want to assure you, the residents of this Territory, that integrity, fairness and professionalism will prevail as I do everything in my power to ensure that the labour sector is properly regulated and that it works to the benefit of all.
I thank you very much.