April 30, 2004
Working towards good relations in workplace

May 1, May Day, has been the traditional day of triumph for the working class. Where the dreaded long hours of exploitation and servitude to the ruling classes were finally put to an end.
No longer were the slaves, serfs and trades-people forced to toil under the misnomer of employment. May Day, International Worker’s Day was a monumental struggle against oppression to secure better working conditions, remuneration and the prized eight-hour day.
Today, even the eight-hour working day seems to us like slave-labour. We all keep vigil, watching the clock as it ticks slothfully to that appointed hour of release. Yet, most of us are blissfully unaware as to how fortunate we are. {{more}}
It may be instructive to take a brief look at history to see how far we have come. Socialist, Robert Owen, an Englishman, campaigned strongly for a 10-hour day in 1810. Owen’s actions were considered brash. Some thirty-seven years would elapse before women and children would benefit from his foresight.
In 1848, French workers heaved a sigh of relief when they were granted a twelve-hour day, an unthinkable working shift (unless of course, you are in the newspaper business). It would not be until the late 1880s that an eight-hour day was deemed to be legal. Here in St. Vincent, it is not the 1880s, yet, we do not have all the high-flown protection of workers’ rights and workers’ compensation as obtains in western civilization. Luckily, we are not far off.
We are heartened by legislation such as the Protection of Employment Act, 2003 (Act No. 20 of 2003) which repeals the Protection of Employment Act, Cap 150 of the Laws of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Revised Edition 1990. The Act is one with which all employees should become familiar to acquaint themselves with their rights.
Little known is that with the exception of daily paid and weekly paid workers, an employee is to be informed in writing of the terms and conditions of employment. Failure on the part of the employer to so do, may result in a maximum fine of $1,000. An employer may not unfairly dismiss an employee without good cause and (as the case may be) without affording the employee an opportunity to defend himself. Probationary periods should not exceed six months unless otherwise provided for by law.
Every employee of a business, where the yearly turn over exceeds $25,000, (or any other business specified by the Minister responsible for Labour) who has been in continuous employment for more than two years, is eligible for severance pay on termination. The Act provides for dispute resolution, the avenues through which remedies may be obtained and the mechanism to seek redress.
One can easily argue that we have protection under the law. We are only now left to forge a strong enough economy to provide employment for all and justify higher wages within the confines of our employment.