Ernest Rolle recently replaced Veronica Nairn as Abaco’s newest Labour Officer at the Labour Department. In his 14-year tenure, he has also served as an inspector.
A brief history of the Labour Department revealed that its main function was to initially provide recruitment of Bahamians for employment as agricultural workers in the United States.
Additionally, with the downturn in the economy and the introduction of Unemployment Act, Labour’s responsibilities have increased as the department works with the National Insurance Board for payment of unemployment benefits along with skills training of the unemployed at the College of The Bahamas and the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute.
The Department of Labour also issues vacancy certificates for expatriates for work permits at the Dept. of Immigration. The certificate is issued to the employer in the absence of there being a suitably qualified Bahamian in the database. It is important for all unemployed persons to be registered at the Labour Department.
Labour also files disputes on behalf of an individual against a company or another individual. However, Rolle said that they prefer to resolve a dispute before it goes on to the Industrial Tribunal.
Another of the department’s functions, one of which Rolle was engaged in on July 17, was the Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union (BCPOU) elections. The Labour Department is required to conduct and supervise union elections and polls.
Moving forward, Rolle expressed that there are a few changes he would like to see. One is a legislated paid lunch for Labour employees, while the other is to see employees paid for at least seven days while on leave with an immediate family member who falls ill. He was also anxious to see that the minimum wage be increased to $160, so that wages would be on par. For example, a worker would earn $4 an hour if paid $160 a week as supposed to the $3.75 an hour that is paid at the current minimum wage of $150.
As for the community’s awareness of Labour’s functions, Rolle said that most people only come to see them to complain about their employers. Even employers can benefit by calling on the Labour Department when they have trouble interpreting the law. All in all, he said that Bahamian employees need to be educated with regard to the Labour Act and employers need to be reminded about their obligations. He added that the worst cases are those who come to The Bahamas to open a business, and although they are not familiar with Bahamian law, they do not ask for advice.
To meet the growth and needs of the Bahamian workforce, Rolle mentioned the Department’s one-stop service center, which is an online interactive data bank where prospective employers can list their vacancies and prospective employees can access and apply for these vacancies. The project was established with the assistance of the United States International Labour Affairs Bureau and the International Labour Organization (ILO), and has been operating successfully in New Providence and Grand Bahama for some time.
Furthermore, Rolle said Labour employees have attended courses on the farming industry, industrial and labour relations, health and safety, labour market statistics, employment exchange (skills database), labour inspection, minimum wages and employment, trade disputes, maritime, relations with the ILO and relations with OAS through the Inter American Conference of Ministers of Labour.
Nevertheless, Rolle’s ultimate goal is to speak at various social clubs and town meetings in the future to better educate people on the role of the Labour Department in an evolving Bahamas.
At the Labour Department on Abaco, Rolle is assisted by two other employees: Doris Jones and Quentin Hall. The Labour Department has offices on New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco, Exuma, Eleuthera, Andros and Bimini.