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2003-01-16 10:13:18

TUC Supports 40 Hour Work Week

Employers Confederation says not financially prudent at this time; TUC says time management is the focus.

Obie Ferguson, president of the umbrella Trade Union Congress (TUC) has strongly opposed the view that a further reduction in work hours to 40 hours is not financially prudent at this time.

He was responding to a comments made by Minister of Labour and Immigration Vincent Peet who said that the Government is considering reviewing the new labour law, as some employers fear that reduced work hours would translate into reduced profits.

Mr. Ferguson also took exception with a statement made by the Bahamas Employers Confederation (BECon), which called for the 44-hour work week to remain in place until the economic health of the nation is such that the 40-hour work week can more readily be absorbed.

"Our position was then, and still is now, that the overall economy should be the guide to the effective date of the reduced ours, not an arbitrary date set in stone," BECon said in a press statement. "It is our opinion that economic recovery has not progressed to the point where the implementation of the 40-hour work week is fiscally prudent."

The Employment Act, 2001, calls for the standard hours of work to be reduced from 48 hours per week to 44 hours per week on February 1, 2002, and a further reduction to 40 hours per week on February 1, 2003.

In an interview with The Guardian on Tuesday, Mr. Ferguson stressed that the reduced hour work would grant working parents to spend more time with their families.

"We are satisfied that the entire world is moving toward less time on the job with efficiency in productivity, and more time for the family," Mr. Ferguson said.

He noted that the focus on reducing work hours is not intended to be unproductive; the focus would be placed on time management.

Mr. Ferguson then called on all workers to increase efficiency in the workplace because it is "critical" for the workplace to survive.

According to BECon, some of the ambiguity of Part III of the Employment Act that deals with the Standard Hours of Work will be cleared up with the phase-in of the 40 hour work week.

The employers confederation explained that some employees have interpreted the 44-hour work week to be up to 44 hours over five days, while others have interpreted the 44-hour work week to be five and one-half days. The 40-hour work week makes it clear that any employee who works over eight hours in any day is entitled to overtime pay at the rate of time and one-half for those hours worked in excess of the standard eight hours per day, "irregardless" of whether 40 hours were worked for the week.

It also noted that the ambiguity of the 48 hours of rest during each seven day period contained in the Act is also alleviated somewhat. And, the reference to "48 hours of rest" is rather confusing; however using 24 hours as one full day the intent appears to be that there should be two days of rest per week.

It is required that one of those days be 24 consecutive hours, which is referred to as a "day off". An employee who works on their day off is entitled to double time pay for all hours. The only other time that double time is applicable is when an employee works on a public holiday.

"It is important to note that the Act requires that an employee's rate of pay not be reduced as a result of the reduced hours," BECon said. "What this means is that salaried workers who are paid a weekly to monthly rate of pay should receive the same rate of pay for the reduced hours, therefore their take home pay will not be affected."

On the other hand, said BECon, although the rate of pay cannot be reduced for hourly employees, the amount of take home pay will be reduced by going from a 44-hour work week to a 40-hour work week.

Another important note is that contrary to rumours, nowhere in the Act is it required that employees be paid for their meal period, BECon said.

Prior to the passage of the Act, a provision was made for this in the Employment Bill, however it was removed several months before the legislation was enacted. Hence, the 40-hour work week is based on 40 productive hours.

For example, if your work day is 7:30a.m. to 4:00p.m. with a 30 minute meal period, or 8:00 a.m. to 5:00p.m. with a one-hour meal period, and you pay your staff for the eight productive hours of work, continue to do so.

The Act does not allow for employers to reduce benefits currently given to staff.

In October 2002, Minister of Labour and Immigration Vincent Peet formed a tripartite committee to review proposed amendments to the labour legislation.

And, although several meetings have been held, "the work of the committee is going very slowly; therefore the concerns of employers have not yet been addressed," BECon said.

Last year, employers were asked to submit to the Ministry of Labour and Immigration by June 17, 2002, concerns and recommendations regarding the labour legislation.

Concerns were expressed over the phase-in of the 40-hour work week in February 2003, as being the most costly aspect of the Act that is faced by those employers affected by the reduced standard hours of work.

"BECon's position at that time was that due to the current state of our economy, and the uncertainty of our economic future, it was our opinion that a fixed date to reduce the standard hours of work was not fiscally prudent.

"Our recommendation was that the implementation of the 40-hour work week not take effect until the economic health of our nation is such that the 40-hour work week can more readily be absorbed."

And, based on the current economic conditions, BECon is calling on the Government not to implement the 40-hour work week until economic conditions improve.

By Lindsay Thompson, The Nassau Guardian

 
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