01 Sep EMPLOYMENT LAWS – FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
By Catherine Ramnarine
In this Article, we will look at some of the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ about employment laws in T&T.
What formalities and registrations are required?
Employers are required to register with the Board of Inland Revenue and National Insurance Board.
There are no legislative requirements governing the form of the employment contract or the terms that must be included. An employment may be express or implied, oral or written or partly oral and partly in writing.
It is important to note that common law, statute and the requirements of “good industrial relations practice” may impose duties, obligations and requirements in addition to those that are expressly included in the employment contract.
What is the minimum wage?
The current general minimum hourly wage (exclusive of gratuities, service charges and commissions) as prescribed by the Minimum Wages (Amendment) Order 2019 (“MWO”) is TT$17.50. Industry specific Orders apply to employees in the restaurant and catering, petrol station, security, shop and household assistant industries.
There have been calls for the minimum wage to be increased. As at the time of writing, the Minister of Labour indicated that a decision on whether to increase the minimum wage is forthcoming.
Are employees entitled to payment for working overtime?
Employees earning up to 1.5 times the minimum hourly wage (or up to TT$26.25) are entitled to overtime calculated in accordance with a prescribed statutory formula set out in the MWO. For employees earning more than this sum, there are no prescribed legislative requirements. Employers may, however, decide to pay overtime rates to their employees. General industry practice is an important factor in determining whether overtime rates should be paid, both from the perspective of ascertaining what “good industrial relations practice” requires and from a practical perspective of being competitive in the labour market and attracting employees.
Are employees entitled to paid sick leave and vacation leave?
There are, save for certain industries in respect of which specific provision is made under a Minimum Wages Order, no statutory provisions governing sick leave in Trinidad and Tobago. However, certain customs and practices have developed over time. For example, certain public sector industries are governed by statute which provides for 14 days paid sick leave per year, and many private sector employers have used this 14 day limit as a guide in crafting their own sick leave policies.
There are (again, save for certain industries in respect of which specific provision is made under a Minimum Wages Order) no statutory provisions governing the amount of vacation leave that employees are entitled to in Trinidad and Tobago. Entitlement to vacation leave is generally governed by the terms of the employment contract. In general, industry practice is usually that employees are entitled to between 2 -5 weeks paid vacation after completing 1 full year of service.
Employees are generally entitled to paid time off on national public holidays. There are currently 14 national public holidays in Trinidad and Tobago. Additionally, although they are not official public holidays, most businesses close on Carnival Monday and Tuesday.
Are employees entitled to maternity leave?
Under the Maternity Protection Act, a female employee that has been continuously employed by an employer for at least 12 months is entitled to 14 weeks’ maternity leave. Female employees can also claim a maternity benefit through the National Insurance system.
There are currently no legislative provisions governing paternity leave, though employers may decide to offer this benefit if they chose to.
Are employees entitled to pension and health insurance?
Employer operated pension plans are common in practice, though not required by law. Plans that are approved by the Board of Inland Revenue and registered with the Central Bank will attract tax exempt status and are transferrable upon termination of employment.
Employer sponsored health insurance plans are also common in practice, though not required by law.
What laws govern health and safety in the workplace?
The Occupational Health and Safety Act sets out a legislative framework governing health and safety in the workplace. Additionally, all employers have a general common law duty to take reasonable care for the safety of their employees during the course of their employment, including a duty to provide competent staff, proper plant and equipment, a safe place of work and a safe system of work. The Workmen’s Compensation Act also requires employers to take out insurance to cover workmen’s compensation claims.
What taxes and statutory deductions are taken out from an employee’s salary?
Employed persons are required to pay Income Tax, which is deducted on a Pay As You Earn (PAYE) basis based on the employee’s chargeable income, determined after various allowances, tax credits and deductible factors are considered. The incidence of these taxes falls on the employee. However, the employer is responsible for deducting same from the employee’s earnings and remitting it to the Board of Inland Revenue.
All employed persons between the ages of 16 to 60 are also required to pay a Health Surcharge Tax which is used to fund public health care. The amount of the tax varies depending on the income of the payee but generally does not exceed TT$8.25 weekly. While the incidence of the Health Surcharge Tax falls on the employee, the onus of deducting it from the employee’s income and remitting it to the Board of Inland Revenue rests with the employer.
There is also a compulsory scheme of National Insurance, known as “NIS”, for all employed persons between the ages of 16 and 65. Contributions are calculated based on a prescribed formula set out in the National Insurance Act. Contributions are paid partly by employers (2/3) and partly by employees (1/3). However, the employer is responsible for deducting and remitting the contribution to the National Insurance Board and will be subject to penalties and interest if it fails to do so.
What laws govern the termination of employment?
Employment “at will” is not a recognised or enforceable concept in Trinidad and Tobago.
The termination of employees in Trinidad and Tobago is generally subject to the jurisdiction of the Industrial Court. This specialist Court is not simply a Court of law, but one of equity, good conscience and “good industrial relations practice”. In order to validly terminate an employee, an employer must comply with the principles of good industrial relations practice, which generally require that an employer must (i) have valid grounds for termination and (ii) follow a fair process. “Good industrial relations practice” is not codified in legislation, but must be gleaned from decisions of the Industrial Court.
What laws govern discrimination in the workplace?
The Equal Opportunity Act prohibits discrimination in employment on the grounds of sex, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, marital status and disability. Currently, age and sexual orientation are not protected statuses under the Act.
What rules govern collective bargaining?
A trade union that represents more than 50% of the workers in a given “bargaining unit” within an employer’s workforce is entitled to be certified as the “recognised majority trade union” for that bargaining unit. Once a union has been certified as a recognised majority union, the employer is required to, in good faith, treat and enter into negotiations with the union for the purposes of collective bargaining.