Cherie Booth, QC, was one of four lawyers invited to speak at a seminar on human rights in the workplace, which took place yesterday afternoon at the Grand Hotel.
The seminar was particularly timely as the Island’s government is due to debate a new employment law on 8 July.
If approved, Island workers will for the first time have access to legal protection against unfair dismissal, entitlement to paid holidays, basic contracts of employment, and a minimum wage.Mrs Blair told the audience of several hundred legal and human rights professionals that in her view Jersey’s lack of protection against unfair dismissal was a shortcoming.
‘I do appreciate that some people might be concerned that the new legislation will be an overburden on the courts and employers,’ she said.
‘But it’s my belief that unfair dismissal legislation is fundamental to providing vital protection for employees.
They deserve the assurance that they will not be deprived of their livelihoods without opportunity for redress or compensation.’An employment law would also enhance productivity and customer retention, she argued.
‘In my view it is to be welcomed, and not feared.
Jersey has a unique opportunity to get it right for the first time.
I would hope that Jersey would embrace the legislation as a cause for celebration, not a cause for concern.’Across the road from the hotel a small group of protesters held their placards defiantly against the wind and rain.
The questions the members of pressure group Attac wanted to put to Mrs Blair were somewhat different from those suggested in the seminar programme.Spokesman Jean Andersson said they didn’t believe people should have to pay £55 to hear about human rights.
‘This isn’t intended for the general public,’ she said.Pat Lucas said that she strongly objected to Jersey’s status as a haven for those evading tax in their own countries.
‘There was a time when we were proud to be from Jersey, but now I’m ashamed that the Island is being used,’ she said.The group also expressed disappointment that Mrs Blair’s husband had refused to consider granting Jersey passport holders the automatic right to live and work in European Union countries.
Back in the Regency Room, Mrs Blair was keen to put across in her 20-minute speech that although she was not suggesting the Island should ‘transplant’ UK legislation wholesale, it was time to take on board the principles, including trade union rights, parental rights and rights for part-time staff.
She said that when the minimum wage was introduced in the UK there were predictions it would result in unemployment and job losses, but those fears had proved unfounded.
And she urged Jersey to consider taking on board European Union directives to combat discrimination on the grounds of age, religion, and sexual orientation.’Of course I appreciate that Jersey is not a member of the EU, but it is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights.
And given now that Jersey has adopted the Human Rights Act there is no better time to adopt anti-discrimination laws,’ she argued.’Jersey is no different from any other country and rights such as these should transcend national boundaries,’ she said.