Photo: Hon. Oscar Requena, Minister of Labour
NTUCB President says they “have been exercising a lot of diplomacy” and they will reach a point where “we will take industrial action to ensure OSH is passed…”
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Nov. 23, 2023
Minister of Labour, Hon. Oscar Requena announced today that his Ministry is conducting its due diligence in getting the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Bill to Cabinet for review at the latest, by early January 2024, though he says it would more likely be by the end of December 2023. Luis Luke Martinez, president of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), says they were told it’s because a new administration took over and they need to present the bill anew.
Martinez has been lighting fire under the Ministry to “rush the OSH now!” The latest update that had been provided on the OSH was when Martinez spoke inside the Senate on October 26, the day after Wilmer Coye, a construction worker with a contracted company, fell to his death at the BDF’s Williamson Hanger Complex after a trolley that was connected to a crane fell when the cable wire of the crane snapped. He and others were conducting works at the military’s air wing and boat unit. Martinez had said in Parliament that after sending a joint letter from the NTUCB and the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) to the Minister Requena in December 2022, indicating they had ironed out their differences on the bill, they were told 6 months later that the Ministry was seeking legal advice on how to proceed. Some more months after, he says, they were given another 2-month timeline for the bill to reach Cabinet.
In an exclusive interview last week, Martinez told Amandala that the 2-month deadline would conclude on December 15, 2023. He informed that the Ministry put together a working group that is consulting stakeholders anew and invited them to a meeting to make submissions this month. Martinez indicated that though they felt the Ministry was reinventing the wheel, they would reluctantly participate in the consultation because they will not “cut off their nose to spite their face.” He affirms that all this has been done before. Granted, he accepts that there have been some changes in labour which emerged after COVID as well as the introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI). However, he said their recommendation was that the Ministry should have submitted the document that the Chamber and NTUCB and a Labour Officer had agreed on to the Labour Advisory Board for its deliberation. Thereafter, the Board would have advised the Minister to send the bill to Cabinet and from there it could go to the National Assembly. According to Martinez, once at the House of Representatives, the bill could have been sent to a standing committee which would then, “if needs be say, ‘we want to come up to date with some of the new changes in the world of work.’ At that stage, and in consultation with the different stakeholders, you’d want to ensure those are placed in the OSH bill – so there is space for that.”
Martinez affirmed that the NTUCB is serious about the fact that “we need to protect employers, workers and customers. We’re adamant about it. And we’ve been very diplomatic. But there is a time for everything. There is a time for diplomacy and there is a time when we’ll have to take industrial action – if it is that we will have to force this Administration to enact OSH, that is what we’re going to do.” Martinez told Amandala that they have made this clear to both the Minister and his CEO. He said they were told that the NTUCB will reach a point where “we will take industrial action to ensure OSH is passed …”
For his part, Minister Requena today said the process has been a lengthy one which included the review of the submissions from the NTUCB and that of their own staff at Labour. What followed and continues is the stakeholder consultations with three main groups. The first were line ministries and government agencies, the second the NTUCB and the Chamber which he said happened this Wednesday. The final consultation will be with the big companies across different industries which he says will take place shortly. Once that is complete, the Minister says all the recommendations will be compiled and reviewed. He noted that the OSH bill is very long as it extends for some 69 pages. Thereafter, the bill goes to Cabinet for its recommendations and then it will be prepared to go to the House of Representatives. Minister Requena says it is arduous work and it must be done right, but that the People’s United Party committed to passing the OSH and they will do so.