By Alexis R. Milan Staff Reporter
Prime Minister Dean Barrow introduced the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Bill at the first House sitting of 2014, to the satisfaction of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB).
The tabling of the Bill came after months of public outcry from the NTUCB, which has been championing this cause for quite some time. Barrow introduced the OSH Bill on Wednesday morning among seven other Bills.
The Bill makes provisions relating to occupational safety and the health of workers and provides new obligations and functions for employers.
The Bill also makes provision for the establishment of a National Occupational Safety and Health Authority, which, according to Barrow, would consist of 12 members plus a secretariat headed by a Chief Health and Safety Inspector.
Barrow also said that there would be at least one Health Inspector stationed in each district.
Barrow said that if this Bill were passed it would come at a huge financial cost.
“There will be a tremendous burden, and financial cost, not only for government, but for the private sector and to small individual employers,” he warned.
He added, “The unions need to recognize that if you start making it unduly burdensome for private employers to comply, in terms of the protective stuff, they will lay off people.”
Barrow stated that it would take a great deal of manoeuvring to get the public to buy into accepting this Bill. He added that after public consultations, “if the society says ‘no’, know this: this is a democracy.”
NTUCB President, Dylan Reneau stated, “The Bill as we know it has been introduced and as the Prime Minister said, it will go through the public debate. We are glad for that as well, because now all workers in this country have a right to have their say in what goes into this Bill. So we’re asking them to come out and be at the forefront for the passage of this Bill.”
Reneau argued that the Bill is good for both workers and employers.
He observed that the PM did not mention the benefits it would provide.
He added, “The thousands of workers that have either been killed or injured on the job and the fact that they’ve been shoved aside as if they’re drones and worth nothing after that; this Bill would give them some level of protection and ensure that things like that don’t happen.”
Reneau stated that “we have to push this thing forward; its very critical for our development.”
Reneau said that he would be very surprised if the OSH Bill did not pass considering the fact that the government retains the majority. He said that in the event of such an occurrence the NTUCB is prepared to take necessary action.
Reneau also explained that the NTUCB had applied for a permit to protest in front of the House even though they had no serious intention to do so.
He explained it was more a test of the system as they wanted to see if there would have been impediments for getting the permit as well as what the government’s reaction would have been.
He said he was pleased that the government didn’t react negatively.
Reneau did say, however, that when the NTUCB membership arrived at the Sitting they were not granted to access to enter at the request of the Speaker of the House because of their disruption of the last house sitting. Reneau said that after they appealed to two ministers who spoke to the Speaker on their behalf, they were granted entrance while NTUCB member, Kathleen Flowers, staged a one-woman protest outside the house.