Student, Hugh Wooding Law School
Workers in Trinidad and Tobago enjoy many legal rights. In this week's article we look at some of these rights.
The Minimum Wages Act Chap. 88:04 provides for a national minimum wage for all workers generally. This minimum wage was recently increased, effective January 2015, to $15 per hour. Employees can report non-compliance by their employer to their trade union or the Minister of Labour.
Health and safety
Workers have often downed tools in dissatisfaction with workplace conditions. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act Chap. 88:08 employers must provide a safe and healthy work environment, protective clothing and equipment at no extra cost, and adequate training and supervision. Employees can refuse to work in unsafe environments. The Act covers both public sector and private sector employees.
Injury at work
When injuries occur at work because of an employer's wrongful or negligent act the Workmen's Compensation Act Chap. 88:05 provides for an employee injured on the job to make a claim–Section 4. Where death results from the injury a dependant of the deceased may also bring a claim–Section 9. Funeral expenses may also be recovered.
The national insurance system provides employed persons with many benefits including assistance with maternity, sickness, funeral grants, survivorship, invalidity and employment injury. A worker paid more than $180 per week must register and contribute to NIS. Employers who do not pay contributions for their employees will be liable under the National Insurance Act Chap. 32:01.
Vacation leave with pay is a right. Paid sick leave, normally 14 days per year, is also a right. Under the Maternity Protection and the Masters and Servants Ordinance Bill a woman is entitled to 14 weeks paid leave and to return to work in a position no less favourable than that she left. If her baby died before she left for maternity leave or in childbirth, she is still entitled to the rest of her maternity leave. A non-unionised employee alleging non-compliance has recourse to the Minister of Labour.
Paternity leave is not mandatory by law but some institutions have made it a part of their regulations. Male teachers, for example, are permitted four days leave around the time their partner or spouse is about to deliver.
The Constitution guarantees citizens equal treatment from public authorities. The Equal Opportunity Act Chap. 22:03 adds another layer of protection for all workers against discrimination in the workplace. An employer cannot refuse employment or discriminate against employed persons on grounds of sex, race, ethnicity, origin, marital status, religion or disability. The Act does not, however, cover discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Employees alleging a breach may bring a complaint to the Equal Opportunity Commission.
A worker is entitled to severance pay if he is dismissed from employment in certain circumstances. Where an employee claims to have been wrongfully or unfairly dismissed, ultimate resort may be had either to the Industrial Court or High Court.