COVID-19 update and press conference – March. 3, 2021. (PMO)

Vacation is really at the discretion of the employer.

Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations, Colin Jordan, emphasised this last evening as he updated the country on the response of his Ministry to the COVID-19 pandemic, during a press conference at Ilaro Court.

The Minister, who sought to answer the query: ‘Can an employer force me to go on vacation?’, said: “What the employer cannot do is to give less than 14 days’ notice … that you’re going to have to take your vacation, as a worker … and that is, according to law. So, once you have been given those 14 days’ notice, then you are obligated to take your vacation.”

Pointing out that there were some situations which his Ministry had to address directly and at the level of the Social Partnership, he made mention of the matter of special circumstance which do not allow for six weeks’ notification for layoffs of a certain percentage of the worker cohort.

Explaining how this should be handled, Minister Jordan said: “The Act is very clear that when you cannot have that six-week period, then you have to enter immediately into consultation with the Chief Labour Officer … and as far as is reasonably practicable, try to adhere to what is expected to have taken place during the six weeks.

“So that is to say, the same process but much more speedily executed is expected as far as possible to be undertaken.  What I am saying therefore, is that sending a letter informing the Chief Labour Officer and expecting that to be considered as consultation, that is against the law.  In other words, illegal.”

Also noting that the Act spoke specifically to this at Section 31, and to consultation, Mr. Jordan asserted: “It acknowledges that it is an unusual situation and so you cannot spend days and weeks, sitting down, working through [it], but there still must be consultation. The workers’ representatives must still be brought into the picture, must still be informed and discussion should still continue with the workers’ representatives….

“The Act does say that as far as is practicable, the Chief Labour Officer will make sure that all those things, including consultation with the union, that would happen in the six weeks, how much of it could happen in the abbreviated time, still happens.”

He pointed out that not as many challenges now existed, since the Labour Department and its officers had been assisting workers and employers to ensure everyone understood their rights, responsibilities and obligations and that employers were guided by the mantra: ‘Let layoff be your last resort’.

Minister Jordan acknowledged that Barbados possessed a very mature industrial relations system, and thanked workers, their organisations and employing organisations in the public, private and third sectors for “the positive steps thus far”.

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