The Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry has submitted a number of thoughtful and relevant amendments to the Bill called the Occupational Safety and Health Bill now before the House of Representatives.
The Chamber is not opposed to the legislation in principle. It is saying that it is too ambitious for a country like Belize at this time, and that it should be amended to give the private sector time to plan for it.
The Belize Chamber of Commerce is the only organization we know of that gives careful attention to proposed legislation which will have an impact on the private sector.
The Chamber regularly consults with experts in the field, and recommendations are only after careful consideration by a cross-section of the private sector.
The BCCI makes the point that the cost of doing business in Belize is already high, and the fines proposed by the new legislation for employers who do not immediately conform to the new safety standards are severe.
The trade unions and the Belize Trade Union Congress would naturally like to see the legislation go through as soon as possible, but no one wants to see the collapse of any existing business resulting from pushing too hard for its implementation.
The idea is to protect workers, while at the same time preserving and improving the employment ratio in the country. This calls for a delicate balance of income over expenditure which cannot be achieved by a unilateral force-march.
The Chamber’s insistence that the core legislation should be accompanied by the relevant regulations is also sensible and relevant. To approve the core legislation now, when no one has any idea of what the regulations will be like is like building castles in the air.
A few years ago the National Assembly approved Housing and Zoning legislation which looked fine on paper. But more than five years have elapsed and the accompanying regulations have not been tabled, rendering the legislation completely ineffective. The Director of Housing has a nice-sounding title and a nice office, but he is legally handicapped by not having regulations to work with.
In the case of the Occupational Safety and Health Bill, the Government is proposing a brand new OSH Authority with a Chief Inspector as its head. But if there are no regulations to work with, the work of the proposed new Authority will quickly become ineffective.
Clearly, we need to re-think and re-shape the OSH Bill to make it achievable and sustainable. Recent excessive demands for pay increases from the unions drew a response from the government that these demands are not achievable or sustainable. Now the shoe is on the other foot. The private sector is saying to the government that the ambitious goals of the OSH Bill are not achievable or sustainable.
It is a message that the government understands from having been in a similar situation.