The National Trade Union Congress of Belize this week has replied to a Reporter Editorial last week in an interview with this newspaper.
The NTUCB concedes that the Bill now before the House needs to be revised, but insists that having made a commitment to implement ILO Occupational Safety and Health conventions, the Government of Belize is required to “translate that international commitment to local legislation.”
The Government of Belize has already demonstrated its willingness to comply with ILO standards by introducing draft legislation which protects worker health and safety on the job. So compliance is not an issue here!
The Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry, representing the private sector, has also said that it is in favour of safety and health protection for workers.
So this principle is not in dispute!
There is all-round consensus that Belizean workers should have health and accident protection on the job. But there is a sharp difference over how much employers should be forced to pay to provide that protection.
The Chamber is saying that the health and accident protection for workers should be phased in so that the expense of providing better working conditions does not become burdensome. It is also saying that regulations which will flesh out the modus operandi of the legislation should be set out “up front,” in full view, and not be presented after the parent legislation has been ratified. This allows for transparency and dialogue, and avoids the risk of unpleasant surprises.
NTUCB is right, of course, when its says that safe and healthy working conditions will improve worker moral and motivation, and lead ultimately to increased productivity. That is one side of the coin. The flip side of that coin is the indisputably high cost of doing business in Belize. If the cost becomes too burdensome, employment growth will be impaired and anticipated benefits for workers will be lost.
It is incumbent on unions and employers alike to strike a happy medium where workers benefit in the long run and employers are not stressed out by unduly heavy burdens.
It is important to note that unions do not create jobs. They are good at demanding better wages and better working conditions. This desire for more is intrinsic to the nature of trade unions. When workers prosper, the people and the nation prosper as well. But it would be a mistake to conclude that workers create prosperity.
Only full employment can do that! And full employment is the golden fleece that every nation seeks.