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Dismissals, suspensions top disputes before the Ministry of Labour

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, June 09, 2014    

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SEVENTY-FOUR per cent of the disputes reported to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLS) during 2013/14 were related to the dismissal and suspension of mainly non-unionised workers.

In an overwhelming number of the cases, the worker was represented by a lawyer, and in some cases by an industrial relations consultant, unlike the traditional representation by a trade union. At the other end of the list, disputes involving workers seeking trade union representation was at the bottom, with only 4.5 per cent of the disputes reported.

The figures are included in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security's (MLSS) Annual Performance Report, which was tabled in the House of Representatives by the minister, Derrick Kellier.

According to the report, at the end of fiscal year 2013/14, the number of industrial disputes reported to the ministry increased by 33, or nine per cent, moving from 363 to 396. The largest number of disputes was related to dismissals and suspensions, which accounted for 293 or 74 per cent of the reported disputes.

The industry with the largest number of disputes -- real estate renting and business services -- increased from 82 cases in 2012/13 to 98 in 2013/14, more than doubling those reported from the manufacturing and education sector which had 42 each.

While disputes affecting the manufacturing sector rose from 40 the previous financial year, those affecting the education section rose from a total of 11 in 2012/13, to almost four times that figure in 2013/14. It was also noticeable that the huge increase in disputes in the education sector was influenced by an increase from 10 cases of dismissal/suspension in 2012/13 to 31 cases in 2013/14.

The ministry noted that of the total 396 disputes it handled in 2013/14, 64.4 per cent involved non-unionised workers and their employers which were either represented by lawyers or consultants. The disputes showed a huge reliance on legal representation by the affected parties, with lawyers being involved in some 255 cases in 2013/14, compared to 178 in 2012/13, including 241 cases of dismissal/suspension in 2013/14 compared to 167 in 2012/13.

In terms of union representation, the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union took the lead with 38 disputes, compared to 33 the previous year, from the National Workers Union which had 30 disputes compared with 47 in 2012/13. The University and Allied Workers Union's figure also reduced, from 20 in 2012/13 to 12 in 2013/14; the Union of Technical, Administrative and Supervisory Personnel increased its total from four the previous year to 12 last year; the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Supervisory Employees, which separated itself from NWU affiliation earlier this year, also fell from 11 last year to two disputes this year, which is probably linked to its inactivity for most of late 2013/14 as its leaders engaged in a battled over the leadership of the NWU and affiliation which lasted into April this year.

In total, the MLSS dealt with 630 disputes last financial year, as there were 234 cases left over from 2012/13. Of the 630, however, the ministry was only able to dispose of 360, or 57 per cent, 161 of which were settled through the ministry's conciliatory efforts, and 58 referred to the Industrial Disputes Tribunal and 70 petered out.

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