Filling a seat that has been vacant since last July, the government announced last Thursday that attorney Jack Husbands will serve as the chairman of the Labour Arbitration Tribunal for a period of two years effective May 1, 2023.

Deputy Premier Lorna Smith made the appointment with the approval of the Cabinet in accordance with Section 29 of the Labour Code, 2010, according to a government press release.

The seat had been vacant — leaving the tribunal unable to process cases — since former chairman Jamal Smith’s two-year term ended on July 31.

During a discussion last November on the Talking Points radio programme, Mr. Smith said that he “did all that [he] was supposed to do” and that the government was “well-informed” before his tenure came to an end.

“[Labour arbitration] cannot proceed without a chairman,” he said at the time. “The importance of the mechanism that was created by that statute, I think, has been lost on someone somewhere within the system.”

History of delays

For years, the tribunal has been plagued by delays, which at times were associated with the government’s struggles to recruit a chair.

Though the 2010 Labour Code required that the body be established, it didn’t launch until 2014.

Delays in processing cases followed, and in September 2020 then-Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley announced that the tribunal had received 25 dispute referrals but had handed down only two formal decisions.

The “inordinate length of time” the tribunal had taken to resolve disputes had become a constitutional issue, Mr. Wheatley added. A recent court decision, he explained at the time, had found the tribunal in breach of section 16.9 of the Constitution, which stipulates that “every person shall have the right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time before an independent and impartial court or other authority established by the law.”

Mr. Wheatley also promised at the time that the tribunal would get a “major overhaul” to address the delays, starting with the appointment of Mr. Smith as its new chairman in August 2020.

As part of those efforts, Mr. Smith implemented new procedural rules shortly after he was appointed.

But after his term ended on July 31, 2022, no one was found to immediately take his place.

In the November 2022 radio interview, Mr. Smith said that government should issue a statement explaining the delay.
Government, meanwhile, advertised the position repeatedly, stipulating that candidates must be attorneys with at least 10 years of experience.

Husbands’ experience

As the new chair of the tribunal, Mr. Husbands is now tasked with ensuring that labour disputes are resolved in a fair and timely manner.

He has worked in the legal field for more than three decades as a barrister, managing associate, partner, and money laundering officer, government stated.

He is currently the principal at Lawton Chambers; a member of the BVI Bar Association, the Barbados Bar Association, and the International Bar Association; and a fellow at the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.

Ms. Smith — who is the minister of financial services, labour and trade — congratulated Mr. Husbands on his appointment and expressed confidence in his ability to lead the tribunal. She also thanked Mr. Smith for his work during his two-year tenure.

Tribunal’s powers

The tribunal is an independent body that holds the authority to issue orders and awards. It serves as the primary decision-making body for resolving labour disputes in the territory, and it governs its own procedures, according to government.

Its mandate includes addressing complaints related to unfair dismissal, constructive dismissal, redundancy, and workplace discrimination, as well as reviewing select decisions of the labour commissioner.