Major changes planned for employment laws
Government today announced it planned to change the Employment Act to bar long extensions to probation periods for employees.
Jason Howard said other alterations would clarify the definition of independent contractors and require employers to have mandatory workplace anti-bullying and anti-sexual harassment policies.
Mr Hayward added trade union legislation would be amended to consolidate the nine labour tribunals into one super disputes resolution panel.
He told the House of Assembly the legal changes were “a long time coming” and were made after in-depth discussions among employers, trade union representatives and the Government.
Mr Hayward said: “These two Bills seek to strengthen the rights and obligations of employers and employees in Bermuda’s labour force as well as modernise and clarify areas of the existing legislation to ensure that it is in line with international best practices.
“In addition, the legislation will revise the labour dispute mechanisms in Bermuda.
“Both of these legislative changes are a long time coming and have had substantial input from employers, trade union representatives and the Government over the years.”
Proposed changes to the Employment Act included:
Probationary periods – Time-frames have been built into the legislation to avoid the practice of long extensions of the probationary period. Employers will now be required to provide employees with a review of their performance midway through their probationary period so that employees are aware of areas that need improvement to enable successful completion of their probation. There are exclusions to this section to take into account those services which require a longer probationary period due to the nature of the work.
Ante-natal care – Employees are no longer required to work for one completed year before being entitled to paid time off from work to attend ante-natal appointments.
Bereavement leave – People for whom bereavement leave can be taken has been extended to include grandparents, great-grandparents, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Payment on termination – Employers will be required, on the termination of an employee, to pay any wages and other payments or benefits owed to an employee within seven days, or at the next interval that the employee would have been paid.
New Sections proposed to be added to the Act included:
Independent contractor – The labour relations manager may issue guidance surrounding the employment relationship as it relates to independent contractors to ensure that persons are not being incorrectly classified.
Meal breaks – Employees are entitled to a meal break of at least 30 minutes after working continuously for five hours.
Bullying and sexual harassment – Employers are required to have a policy against bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace that applies to all employees.
Mr Hayward said it was hoped that the Employment Amendment Act would come into force on June 1 next year to allow employees, employers and their respective representatives to familiarise themselves with its provisions and make the necessary changes to their current contracts of employment and/or handbooks.
Mr Hayward said the new laws were drawn up following a review of current legislation by the Labour Law reform Committee - a nine-member panel made up of union, employer, and independent representatives.
He added: “Various industry stakeholders were invited to provide their comments and views on the current legislation with suggested amendments, which were reviewed and considered by the LLRC during its review.”
Mr Hayward said the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act would consolidate The Trade Union Act 1965; The Labour Relations Act 1975; and The Labour Disputes Act 1992.
The new Act would create an Employment and Labour Relations Tribunal which would handle all employment complaints and labour related disputes.
The existing nine means of mediating and arbitrating disputes, ranging from sole arbitrators to boards of inquiry, would be abolished.
Mr Hayward added the legislation tabled today will streamline and consolidate the number of tribunals across all labour and employment legislation into one to be known as the Employment and Labour Relations Tribunal.
He said: “This is a significant improvement on the current state of affairs.”
The legislation would also mean offences under labour acts would no longer be criminal offences but would be punishable with civil penalties up to $5,000.
For the Minister’s full statement, please see Related Media.