Wed | Dec 7, 2016

Unfair employer practices

Published:Monday | October 13, 2014 | 12:00 AM

The new university graduate was anxiously seeking to find a job. There were day-to-day bills and the students' loan to pay. A friend recommended a company that was right up her alley. She called in, sent in her curriculum vitae, and was summoned to an interview.

It went well and she was accepted. Her written contract stated the pay package and outlined the requirement to work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (with a lunch break), five days per week (Monday to Friday). It went on to address vacation leave and so on.

On her first day at work, it came as an unpleasant surprise when her employer made it abundantly clear that anyone habitually leaving for home before 7:30 p.m. was obviously not interested in working there. The boss announced that employees were sometimes expected to come in long before 9 a.m. and that staying late and working on weekends would not attract any additional remuneration. In other words, there would be no overtime or time and a half for any work done in addition to the agreed-upon working hours (40 hours per week) in the contract.

Desperation forced the young university graduate to hang on to that blatantly unfair job. She was afraid to report the matter to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. The economy dictated that people like her and many others within the spectrum of the working class tolerate illegal workplace practices in order to survive.

Convenient delays

In spite of her need for a job, she resigned when her boss, citing economic hardships, cut back her salary, and working days to 3 days per week yet called her to come in on the days when she should be off.

Other businesses employ workers but conveniently delay the preparation and signing of contracts until weeks into the commencement of work. Sometimes, by the time they get around to preparing the contract, the terms and conditions verbally agreed upon somehow seamlessly morph into a new arrangement skewed to favour the company to exploit the desperate employee.

This unethical ploy effectively traps the employee into a situation wherein he or she has become dependent on whatever salary he or she receives and now finds it unthinkable to let go of their job.

Many other businesses lay off staff in order to reduce the payroll burden but require the remaining employees to pick up the significant slack - carry out their usual duties/responsibilities in addition to those of the laid-off personnel. The remaining employees, therefore, find their workload greatly increased but their salaries remain unchanged.

Harsh economic atmosphere

Jamaica's very harsh economic atmosphere has led to unfair employer practices in diverse places. I believe that only a minuscule portion of the abuses are being reported to the authorities. With the times being as hard as they are, with jobs being extremely difficult to secure, employees are reluctant to bite the (unfair) hand that feeds them, even if that hand is squeezing the life out of them.

I know that the Ministry of Labour and Social Security is extremely vigilant and acts with alacrity and deftness whenever it becomes aware of employer abuses. However, given the (understandable) fear among employees, it seems to me that the ministry has to become proactive and investigate to discover and unearth despicable companies and employers.

The ministry could prepare a very brief anonymous questionnaire with only five or six pointed questions. It could publicise its intent to carry out workplace surveys to seek out unfair practices and have personnel randomly visit businesses to execute them.

It would only take three or four minutes, would not require the identification of the respondents and yield valuable information that would flag businesses for investigation. It's the least that can be done for the thousands of workers suffering in silence.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.