Features — 24 January 2014 — by Adele Ramos

At the last sitting of Parliament, representatives of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) agitated for the immediate introduction of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Bill, claiming that the Barrow administration, which had promised to introduce the bill in 2013, had been dragging its feet in taking the bill to the House of Representatives.

Well, today, Prime Minister Dean Barrow finally introduced the OSH Bill, and while he said that the objectives of the bill, as proposed by the NTUCB, are indeed laudable, he said that if passed, “the price tag will be huge…” and a tremendous cost to the Government, which will also have to set up a new statutory body to give effect to the reforms.

The bill calls for the creation of a National Occupational Safety and Health Authority and an inspectorate.

Barrow said that although it is perhaps time and even overdue that they make this quantum leap forward, nobody must be under any illusion, because there will be a “substantial burden and cost” to the Government of Belize, to the private sector and also to self-employed persons and small individuals who may hire just one worker.

He said that “… to become compliant will cost a great deal of money.”

Barrow said that when the financial costs begin to bite, people will want to blame the Government, so the bill will be put forward for national consultation, said Barrow.

“The house committee that will have charge of this bill will not just hold its hearing in Belmopan, but it will be treated like a constitutional amendment, and taken across the country so the citizenry can have its full say.

He also said that the unions should take into account the additional costs Government would have to bear with the implementation of the OSH, against the backdrop of ongoing negotiations for a salary adjustment for teachers and public officers.

“When the unions talk about salary increases—which they absolutely deserve—they must realize that when they ask for something like this—which again they deserve—they put a strain on recurrent expenditure,” Barrow said, adding that there is only so much that can be done without increasing taxes – and they are determined not to increase taxes.

He added that it is the Government that will have to shoulder the cost of another pretty sizeable bureaucracy—which will not be easy to fund, and Government, as with other employers, will incur additional costs for things such as protective gear and infrastructural changes to the workplace environment and to policies and procedures to effect the bill.

He said that after the process of consultation, changes will likely be made to the bill, and ultimately, if the citizenry says no, “no it is, because this is a democracy.”

Barrow said that the bill calls for penalties in the range of $25,000 for a natural person and $250,000 for a corporate body in violation.

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