Reflecting on the efforts of our political leaders in ensuring Occupational Health and Safety
Guyana’s political leaders are adamant about making the working environment a safe and healthy place for employees. After all, a government’s sustainability is dependent on a strong and well maintained force of public servants.
To demonstrate its commitment to this cause, they have taken a number of measures over the years. In 2012 for example, the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C) which held office at the time, ensured that its Ministry of Labour partnered with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to promote a better understanding of the methods, rules and regulations governing the health and safety practices at workplaces.
This was facilitated through several successful workshops which highlighted the administration’s efforts to support occupational safety by enacting several pieces of legislation to ensure better treatment of workers by their employers and to improve health practices in their working environment.
Some of these include Holidays with Pay and the Occupational Safety and Health Acts, which has shown Guyana’s commitment to safeguarding the rights of employees.
Guyana also signed on to the I55 Occupational Safety and Health convention. The country’s laws are within the ambit of that convention. There has also been an increase in the number of safety inspectors who are responsible for going out into the fields, as more emphasis is placed on mining and quarrying alike since the interior locations continue to see an influx of investments which attracts hundreds. While it was not the objective of the then PPP/C Government to prosecute employers, laws have been implemented to ensure that workers’ rights are not trampled upon, and to ultimately ensure their safety. Workers are always encouraged to seek assistance from the Ministry to ensure an accident-free workplace.
Additionally, Dr. Yuka Ujita, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has stressed that while the mining sector is important to an economy and a nation’s development, for that development to continue there must be safe workplaces. He too encourages workers to make use of the relevant legislation to safeguard their rights.
But this would later see the announcement of a new 40-hour work-week. Former Labour Minister, Dr. Nanda Gopaul had disclosed that there is to be a national five-day working week which is equivalent to eight hours per day.
He believed that such a move was necessary and would benefit over 30, 000 workers countrywide. Coming from this new feature enacted in 2013 he said, was that there would be certain leave entitlements in accordance with the other laws already in place.
There was also an agreement to ratify Convention 189 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and auxiliary legislation to protect domestic workers. Since Guyana signed on to the Convention, the Labour Ministry, in collaboration with the Natural Resources Ministry, had perused regulations for the mining sector and has since made moves for its implementation.
It subsequently saw the installation of regulations for the forestry sector as governed by the occupational health and safety guidelines.
Political leaders have demonstrated that they strongly believe that with continued support from the trade union movement in creating an atmosphere of security for workers, it could positively lead to the conduction of a series of exercises with employees and shop owners annually.
They believe that this is vital to apprise employers about their roles and responsibilities as it relates to the regulations that will come into being on the new minimum wage.
Many of them also hold the view that once the groundwork is laid and the parameters are set, employers will fall in line.
Guyana’s leaders have committed to ensuring that employees are in strict compliance and that they understand their obligations as it relates to the regulations and labour laws in the country.
It is for this reason the Labour Ministry conducted training with foreign employers by providing them with the relevant information and translating the labour laws into Portuguese and Chinese.
The current administration, A Partnership for National Unity plus Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) has taken the mantle from its predecessors , the PPP/C and has promised that it will continue to work with the social partners in this development drive, and reiterated its commitment to the promotion of decent work for all, a healthy environment and better working conditions.
In fact, the Ministry of Social Protection recently launched a book exhibition at the University of Guyana in recognition of April being Occupational Health and Safety Month.
At the launching of the event which the Social Protection Minister, Volda Lawrence said that Occupational Health and Safety Day will actually be celebrated internationally on April 28.
She said however, that the Ministry has dedicated the entire month to a series of events and activities in the hopes of educating and heightening awareness of Occupational Health and Safety in the workplace.
Lawrence said that her Ministry is cognizant of the challenges that are presented on a daily basis in the working environment.
The Minister said that she is also aware of the fact that the workforce is exposed to conditions and hazards, which may be biological, chemical, environmental, and ergonomic, among others in nature and for which safeguards and preventive measures must be in place to limit or eliminate any risk of injury, illness or death.
The Social Protection Minister said that it is crucial that all workers perform and execute their tasks in a safe and healthy environment hence theme for this month’s celebration is, “Workplace Stress: A collective Challenge.”
She said, “Inherent in this theme is the call for all stakeholders- management as well as workers to embrace this issue collaboratively in an effort to minimize the stress that is evident in the working environment.”
The Social Protection Minister continued, “Each worker, irrespective of the level at which he operates, has rights which must be honored and physical and emotional needs which must be adequately met. Each employee must be valued, respected and satisfied if we want him to work effectively and make his contribution to the company or institution in which he is an integral part.”
Lawrence added, “He must be happy to come to work and must be able to function without fear of being hurt, threatened or victimized. In a nutshell, this emphasizes the need for our workers and management to work together to provide the appropriate ambience in which the policies and regulations governing Occupational Health and Safety are prioritized.”
It is upon this background that the Social Protection Minister indicated that she was elated to have the launch of the Book Exhibition which will see a wide array of books, journals and posters pertaining to the issue of Occupational Health and Safety.
She said, “We therefore have no excuse for not apprising ourselves of this very crucial issue. As we peruse the titles, I am sure that our interest will be stimulated by one or more of them. Let us not lose this wonderful opportunity to educate ourselves. Make sure that you select a copy and share the information with your colleagues at work.”
The Minister hopes that organizations will seize the moment and ensure that workers are made aware of the requirements that an effective Occupational Health and Safety program entails.
Lawrence noted that the Massy Group of Guyana has on exhibition the protective gear and equipment that will provide safety for workers on the job. As the theme suggests, the Minister said that all must be involved to ensure that workplace stress is kept to a minimum.
She called on all Guyanese to advocate therefore for proper use of gear and equipment and make use of the books through discussions at staff meetings and professional development sessions.
In this era of globalization, Lawrence asserted that information is power. Towards this end, the Minister of Social Protection said she aspired for Guyana to have a workforce that is knowledgeable in every aspect of the job particularly as it pertains to safety and protection.
Lawrence commented that empowerment is best achieved when citizens have the commitment and participation of all stakeholders in the process. Lawrence thanked the University of Guyana Personnel for being the host of the exhibition.