STATEMENT BY THE HONOURABLE VINCENT WHEATLEY
MINISTER FOR NATURAL RESOURCES, LABOUR & IMMIGRATION
NEW CHAIRMAN OF THE LABOUR ARBITRATION TRIBUNAL
WEDNESDAY, September 23, 2020
Mister Speaker, as the Minister for Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration, I have responsibility for the appointment of a Tribunal under the Labour Code, 2010 (No. 4 of 2010) as part of the mechanism for the settlement of labour disputes. Under section 29(3) of the Labour Code, 2010, I am empowered to appoint a Chairperson of the Tribunal and I am pleased to announce that Cabinet agreed that Mr. Jamal Smith be appointed as Chairperson with effect from 01 August 2020 for a period of two (2) years. He is the first Virgin Islander to hold this post since the creation of the Tribunal, being a qualified legal practitioner since 2002, a former Chairman of the BVI Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association, representing employers; a former Professional Support Lawyer in the BVI office of an international law firm, representing employees; the owner of his own private practice with an affiliated office in Hong Kong, a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators based in London as well as serving on various committees, including arbitrators, within the International Trademark Association based in New York. I wish to thank the previous Chairpersons for their contributions over the years, who were, Mr. Lewis Hunte, QC and Mr. Paul Dennis, QC.
Mister Speaker, the Tribunal had its first complaint referred to it in 2015 and over the years have had more than 25 matters. During that time there have been only two (2) formal decisions handed down by the Tribunal and some matters have been withdrawn. There are currently approximately 15 outstanding matters before the Tribunal, some dating back to 2015, with three (3) new matters referred to it since August 2020. As a result of a recent court decision that found that the Tribunal was in breach of section 16(9) of the Virgin Islands Constitution Order, 2007 due to the inordinate length of time it was taking to resolve labour disputes, for which the new Chairman was involved, the Government decided it was necessary to restructure the Tribunal to meet its human rights obligations to all the parties involved, and I am confident that the new Chairman would ensure that this happens.
Mister Speaker, since the new Chairman’s appointment he has swiftly implemented new procedural rules, namely, the Labour Code (Arbitration Tribunal) (Procedure) Rules, 2020 (S.I. No. 98 of 2020) that came into force on Monday, 31 August 2020. The Chairman has since heard six (6) of the outstanding matters in accordance with the new rules and an additional outstanding matter have since been discontinued, with dates having been scheduled for several others and hearing dates have already been set for the three (3) new matters.
Mister Speaker, under section 29(7) of the Labour Code, 2010, I am responsible for providing administrative support for the Tribunal. As part of the necessary restructuring of the Tribunal, the current staff compliment, which includes the Secretary to the Tribunal and an Administrative Officer, is currently under review, with the current Secretary to the Tribunal going on retirement leave at the beginning of October 2020. This was delayed from the previous schedule leave date at the request of the new Chairman to allow for an easy transition to the new way of doing things at the Tribunal. However, the Tribunal is ably assisted by a Finance Officer within my Ministry, who is working out the necessary details for the 2021 budget cycle; the Human Resources Manager in my Ministry who is also working out the new administrative support for the Tribunal; and the Public Relations Officer in my Ministry who has met with the new Chairman to create an online presence for the Tribunal as part of the Government’s website. Technical support will continue to be provided by the Government’s Department of Information Technology to ensure that it can continue to fully function during this COVID-19 pandemic. This has resulted in the use of the Government’s CISCO WebEx platform to conduct hearings since 01 September 2020 and the new Chairman issued the Labour Code (Arbitration Tribunal) (Telephone and Video Hearings) Guidelines, 2020 (S.I. No. 99 of 2020) to facilitate hearings by video conference.
Mister Speaker, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on local businesses, we anticipate an uptick in complaints that will be referred to the Tribunal in the near future. Therefore, my Ministry is committed to working closely with the new Chairman and I have already held several meetings with him, both prior to and after his appointment. I will be personally assessing the work of the Tribunal going forward to ensure that it meets our international obligations and the needs of our labour force.
I thank you Mister Speaker.