Bill aims to protect rights of employees
By Alex O'Reilly, Bermuda Sun, 30 June 2000
(News from 2000-06-30 Edition) A DRAFT Bill to protect the rights of employees in Bermuda is being circulated to businesses for discussion. The Bermuda Sun has obtained a copy of the document which - for the first time in Bermuda's history - attempts to turn "good business practises" into law.
The Employment Act 2000 proposes minimum standards for employers, providing a baseline for companies, which can then determine their own benefits.
Until now, for example, there has been nothing to compel workers to sign a contract with their employer. And as far as benefits or rights, there has been little, in recent years, in the way of legislative guidance.
For employers that do not have their own guidelines, the Bill sets local standards for sick, maternity, bereavement leave, public duties and other forms of time off, conditions of employment and procedures for firing.
If the Bill becomes law, failure to comply could result in a fine of $10,000. And an annual report will be submitted to the Labour Minister, "setting our decisions and awards made by the inspector."
It will not, however, reveal the names of any of the parties affected by the decisions or awards.
The document was promised by government in the Throne Speech and previously, the only employment guidelines that existed in Bermuda was the Guide to Good Employment Practice and the Code of Good Industrial Relations Practice, neither of which were legally binding.
The draft Bill, still in its early stages, was released earlier this month by Labour Minister Paula Cox to the Bermuda Employers Council, which after consultation with its members, will prepare a position paper for government based upon the feedback it receives.
Ms. Cox declined to comment, saying it was too early as the Bill is only in draft form and not ready to be tabled in Parliament.
The document, now in its third draft, establishes the standard work week as 40 hours, with any overtime to be paid at time-and-a-half, or at the standard rate with time off in lieu.
However, the Minister does reserve the right to amend the 40 hours, depending upon the occupation, whether it is seasonal work or if there is an impact on the health and safety of the employee or the general public.
Employees should be paid in full for public holidays which fall within scheduled working hours, and the Bill mandates two weeks paid holiday per year.
Eight days of sick leave, to be paid at the full hourly rate, eight weeks of paid and four weeks of unpaid maternity leave, are also proposed, with the added provision that a new mother must have her job to go back to, or one at the same level with the same pay.
Also, expectant mothers will be able to visit the doctor for anti-natal visits during working hours. At this point there is no provision for paternity leave.
Employers will be required to let their staff undertake public duties, such as the Bermuda Regiment, government boards, reserve police, the House of Assembly and the Senate, jury duty and so on.
Throughout the Bill it is stipulated that employees must serve one continuous year in their job before they are entitled to full compensation.
Also outlined is "termination of employment," detailing how much notice as well as compensation must be given to those who are either being fired or made redundant.
Payment in lieu of notice is included, severance, disciplinary action as well as causes for an immediate termination with no compensation.
Referring to employees, the draft bill states that it is not designed to cover children under 16 years, casual workers, part time employees (those who work less than 15 hours per week) or voluntary workers.