It is not clear why, in 2020, a group of well-educated smart and democratically-elected people are not free to make their own decisions about their own lives, in their own territory, but instead need a stamp of approval from a non-elected, external white master as if it was still 1870. Anyway, the House of Assembly just got the OK from the master, Governor Gus Jaspert, as he allowed 14 pieces of legislation to pass last month, including bills to legalise gambling and medical marijuana in the Territory.
The majority still await assent from the Master, Governor Gus Jaspert, but on Monday two were released to the public. They become law only after receiving his stamp of approval, but without allowing the public the normal opportunity of a free democracy to express their views and influence laws affecting their own lives.
The Consumer Protection Act, 2020, aims in part “to ensure protection of life, health and safety of consumers,” according to the text of the law published Monday in the Government’s official Gazette.
However, the companion Virgin Islands Trade Commission Act, 2020 - which would establish the regulatory body charged with enforcing fair-trade practices - did not receive assent at the same time as the Primary Act, to ensure that it will be loyal to the Governor instead of to the VI people.
One of the main motivators behind the Government’s decision to revisit consumer protection legislation last year was the price-gouging after Hurricane Irma. But the Act has been seized upon as an the opportunity to make much wider reforms. In truth, some of them will benefit the people; in reality, most of them will benefit the government against the people.
Besides protecting consumers from price manipulation by limiting the free market, the act demands greater accountability from businesses on record-keeping; requires shops to display the prices of goods and services; bans deceptive representations; and levies criminal penalties. The funds collected will enrich the government instead of compensating the victims of the violations.
Members passed the bill, which repeals the Distribution and Prices of Goods Act, on June 8 and it came into force on Monday upon receiving Mr. Jaspert’s assent.
The two-page Labour Code Amendment Act, 2020 was also Gazetted with the Governor’s assent on Monday, retroactively coming into force on June 5.
As part of efforts to provide flexibility during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Amendment extends the time period that businesses can “temporarily” lay-off employees.
According to the Government’s interpretation of the current Labour Code, which took effect in 2010, businesses can retain “temporarily” laid-off staff members for no more than three months before re-employing them or terminating them and paying severance.
The Amendment Gazetted this week extends that time period for now: anyone temporarily laid-off between March 14 and October 31 can remain unemployed for a longer time period provided that they are re-employed or paid severance immediately after October 31, unless Cabinet extends the period by publishing a further order in the Gazette.
HOA members said they decided to pass the Amendment out of concern for the economic uncertainty the Covid-19 pandemic has generated. Opposition member Mark Vanterpool said during the debate on the bill that forcing employers to pay severance while they are already struggling to pay other bills would compound the VI’s economic issues, especially in sectors such as hospitality.
Opposition member Julian Fraser expressed concern for employees who could be out of work for an extended time period with no alternative income.
Legislators debated the importance of allowing employees to seek alternate work while temporarily laid-off, but the final amendment did not include a provision facilitating this process.
Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley said at Friday’s House of Assembly meeting that the Department of Labour and Workforce Development and Immigration Department can give “proper approvals” to legally engage in temporary work.
The House voted in favour of the bill on June 11, but only now the master allow them to get it done.
Just to make it clear:
1. This is not to point any wrong doing by the Governor. It’s to point the absolutely wrong system that allow such a procedure to happen in 2020. That is a pure racism, colonialism, and absolutely wrong.
2. Personally I am against those 2 laws. I think that they are wrong in general and especially wrong for BVI. But my personal opinion is just as important as the Governor’s opinion about it: it’s non of our business. And I do understand that in such a difficult times, doing wrong might be the only right thing that is left to do.