THERE'S a call for the Government to revisit labour laws which deal specifically with employers who keep their workers on fixed-term contracts.
A fixed-term contract is an employment contract by which an employer recruits an employee for a limited period of time.
While Jamaica's Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act of 1976 speaks to an employee's obligation under a contract, it does not address the issue of a fixed-term contract — which many Jamaicans have signed on to as a part of their work arrangement.
The problem is that workers who are employed on fixed-term contracts do not receive the benefits that permanent employees enjoy. In fact, in some cases fixed-term contract workers are forced to work under difficult circumstances without critical benefits like health or life insurance and pension. At the same time, there's a worrying trend of employers opting to employ their workers on fixed-term contracts in order to circumvent their obligations to the worker.
The issue was highlighted by Opposition Senator Lambert Brown recently while he made his contribution to the State of the Nation Debate in the Senate.
He said “Under this contract work, the so called fixed-term contract, workers are being denied the benefits that they would have gotten under the 70s law.”
He further argued that, “People are working ten or more years with no pension. In some cases vacation leave, sick leave, maternity leave are denied because the contract is renewed every six months.”
Senator Brown highlighted that the issue is particularly noticeable in the hotel and bauxite sectors as well as in government.
He explained that, “In the hotel sector, a worker was suspended without pay for nearly 3-4 years on a six-month contract. That worker is deprived of certain benefits, deprived of tenure of employment.
“Imagine a foreign company working with the Government with a 49-year agreement to maintain roads and employing workers on a six monthly rotating contract. They do that so they can undermine those workers' right to union, right to redundancy, right to pension. The State itself is employing a lot of workers on short-term contracts. Go into the Jamaica Defence Force, go into the Ministry of National Security — a lot of workers are on short-term contract,” he continued.
He's now demanding changes to Jamaica's labour laws in order to protect the rights of workers.
“I call on the Government to do what the United Kingdom Government has done — pass a law protecting fixed-term contracts which says 'If somebody is employed on fixed-term contracts over a period of time, they must be treated as being permanent,' and that the company must come and say there's an objective reason for you being on a fixed-term contract.”
This legislative approach to protect workers who are employed under a fixed-term contract is not new and has been introduced in other countries like the US, UK, South Africa and Australia.
In those countries, the Government stipulates specific conditions whereby the employer may be required to provide benefits to an employee on a fixed-term contract.
For example, the UK labour codes stipulate that, “Fixed-term employees who have been continuously employed for four years or more on a series of successive fixed-term contracts will automatically be treated as permanent employees (that is, employed under an indefinite contract), unless the continued use of a fixed-term contract can be objectively justified.”