Monday February 25 2008
by A. Aisha Caleb-Browne
The Antigua Trades & Labour Union (AT&LU) has made a forceful plea for workers to report all cases of occupational injury, lest they are denied their rights and privileges under the country's labour laws.
The appeal comes following the death of 30-year-old Carlton Fitzherald Sancho of Guyana, who succumbed to complications as a result of injuries he sustained after falling into an uncovered hot-mix tank on the property of his workplace, the Antigua Distillery Limited.
Sancho, a former police officer in his native Guyana, has reportedly been living in Antigua for the past three years with his sister Onika Dey.
The duo spoke to the Antigua Sun prior to Sancho's untimely death, at which time they expressed concern about the amount of publicity the case was receiving.
When prompted, it was revealed that not being a national of Antigua and Barbuda, Sancho was fearful that he would have been subjected to victimisation and loss of wages that would have come his way as a result of his incapacitation.
Further, Sancho told the SUN at the time that the ADL handled the payment and paperwork for his work permit, and as such, he did not want to upset management.
But General-Secretary (GS) of the AT&LU Stafford Joseph was adamant that an individual's nationality does not exempt him or her from receiving compensation once his/her legal status in the country has been deemed bona fide.
He said a number of cases have been reported to the union but were subsequently dropped.
Upon further inquiries by the union, it was found out that some of the employees were afraid, and said they decided not to pursue the matter because they were not "straight", or that their papers are still being processed.
"Nationality has nothing to do with it. The law makes it clear that if an employee or workman suffers personal injury by accident out of and during the course of such employment, his employer shall be liable to pay compensation in accordance with the provisions of this Act," Joseph said.
Joseph further explained that this compensation is separate and apart from regular wages or salaries. "If an employee gets injured on the job through occupational injury, Social Security does not pay for it.
"The form that you get from the doctor would indicate whether or not it is an actual occupational injury… once it is ascertained, that responsibility is for the employer to now take care of."
According to Joseph, the employer would also be responsible for compensating the employee up to 25 per cent of one's basic earnings.
Additionally, any medical bills arising during the time of the employee's recuperation should legally be the responsibility of the employer.
At the end of the "sick leave" period, the worker is then required to undergo a complete physical assessment in order for the doctor to make a determination of incapacity if any.
This determination will then ascertain the temporary nature or permanency of the injury. "So if there is any loss of use of functionality of any member of limb of the body, then that is a separate compensation from the employer."
On Sunday, Dey told the SUN that she was worried that the company will not foot the bill for funeral arrangements.
However, Joseph said that due to the archaic laws on the books, the employer may not be liable to incur the expenses involved in transporting the body.
"The whole document needs to be looked into, because the average person is not aware of it. But the law still states that where death results, the actual cost of the burial of the deceased workman must be the responsibility of the employer, along with the compensation. It never said anything about transporting a body out of state though."
The SUN has learnt that Sancho's reportedly estranged wife will be on island by this morning from Guyana to claim the body.
The couple has two children.