Oct. 21, 2003 – The Labor Department is "getting away from the traditional roles of labor relations," Commissioner Cecil Benjamin said at an all-day informational seminar held on Tuesday at Palms Court Harborview Hotel on St. Thomas.
Instead, it is focusing on delivering "quality services" to the territory's job seekers and employers alike, he said.
The seminar provided information about V.I. labor laws and Labor Department services provided through eight divisions:
– Labor Relations
– Job Services
– Workers' Compensation Administration
– State of the V.I. Economy and Bureau of Labor Statistics Programs
– Unemployment Insurance
– Hearings and Appeals
– Occupational Safety and Health
Representatives of each division had 40 minutes each on Tuesday to tell the gathered employers and employees about their services and applicable laws.
Glen Smith, labor relations director, said the department's role is not to put business owners out of business, but to strike a balance between labor and management.
"We are here to enforce laws and work cooperatively with both sides," he said. "Our role is to promote harmonious relationships … When workers are happy, they produce." As a result, he said, employers benefit and the government benefits by being able to collect more taxes.
Smith reviewed the law regarding fair labor standards and told employers they are required to keep records showing what their employees are paid for each hour worked per day and per week, and the amount paid annually.
Employees who believe they have not received the proper amount in their paychecks can fill out a wage claim form, and employers will be found in violation if they do not have such payment records, he said.
Smith also warned employers that it is illegal for them to garnishee the wages of workers. "Only a court can order" such attachment of funds, he said. However, if employees acknowledge a liability to their employer and consent to money being taken out of their paychecks, this is legal, he said.
He also said employers should develop a policy of "higher accountability" by having more than one person in the company handling the money.
More than 80 people attended the seminar; most were employees.
Beverly Joseph, an account manager at A H Riise Stores, said she learned many things that she had not known about before.
June Van Holten of the V.I. Board of Nurse Licensure said she already was aware of most of the information that was presented, from having attended earlier seminars. But she said some updates were provided.
Arah Lockhart, job services director, said her division is using new avenues to improve customer satisfaction among job seekers. It now posts job listings online and on Channel 10, the government access cable television channel, and offers workshops on writing resumes and preparing for job interviews. She told employers of a fast fax job order form created to speed up the process of adding new openings to the job listings.
"We are doing a lot of in-house training and capacity building" to improve employee productivity, she said.
Lockhart introduced the One Stop Operating System as "a subjective automated system" that is key to matching the needs of employers with the qualifications of job seekers.
However, she said, the system is not yet fully installed, because of problems with the local government's technological capabilities.
Lockhart also told the attendees that local employers who do not file job vacancies with Labor Department are in violation of the law.
"We recognize that many employers have not been satisfied" with what job services has been able to do for them in the past, Lockhart said. But, she added, "All of that is changing. We recognize that customer satisfaction is the ultimate goal."
And she asked that businesses help the division learn to do a better job of helping them.
The Labor Department will conduct a similar seminar Wednesday on St. Croix at Carambola Beach Resort, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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