Labour Commissioner Dr. Matthew Leblanc has said some employers in Dominica are using Hurricane Maria as an excuse to lay off workers in a manner that is inconsistent with the laws.
He made the comment in an interview with state-owned DBS Radio.
“In many cases, we realize that employers are using the pretext of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria not only to relieve themselves of certain workers or to sever the employment relationship that has been established with certain workers but do it in a manner that is not consistent with the law,” he stated.
He said that such practice is against the laws of Dominica.
“That is unlawful and wrongful in the sense that many employers are causing workers to cease activity by saying that the workers themselves have terminated their employment,” he stated.
Leblanc pointed out that the island’s laws dictate that no employee terminates their own employment except by resignation.
“If an employer considers that an employee for some reason has been absent from work, as much as the employee has a responsbility to report to work, if that employee has not reported to work then the employer should take certain steps to at least find out from the employee or the employee’s family why the employee is not at work and should not resort to immediate termination of employment, accusing the employee of having abandoned their work until they have taken steps to ensure that the employee for one reason or the other was not at work,” he stated.
He said in many cases employers did not communicate clearly with their workers or there were ambiguities in their communication, leaving them in limbo.
“As a result of that the employees are not sure they are to be working or not, whether they ought to come to work or not and if they do not show up to work, all of a sudden the employers accused them of having abandoned their post but have not in fact officially summoned them to work or indicated there was supposed to be work,” he remarked.
Leblanc said the matter is of serious concern to the Labour Department.
He also stated that after Hurricane Maria, many employers have used their workers to clean their facilities and the Labour Department is concerned about it.
“If the employer requires assistance from the employees, the employer can ask for assistance but to assume that the workers all of a sudden become a labourer or a person who is removing debris and using the spade and the pickax to dig out dirt from your business place is unfair and unjust because it does not fall in the work contract or job description of the employee,” he said. “And most of the employers pay the employees the same wage as if they were coming to work on a regular basis and it was business as usual whereas they are merely using the employees to clean up their place and then after they tell them to go home.”
Leblanc said the Labour Department is looking very closely at the situation and will be investigating every report and bring respective parties to dialogue before it goes to arbitration or litigation.