House of Representatives Tackles Crucial Issues in First 2024 Sitting
The House of Representatives met in Belmopan this morning for the first sitting for 2024. Several policy papers were laid in the house while some Bills were introduced for the first time, with others seeing its second and third readings. In today’s 5-hour session, several crucial updates came about on topics including the National Women’s Commission, the Maya Lands, a Bill for private security, free education, ITVET, the OSH Bill and the current situation regarding the stevedores and the new management at the Port of Belize Limited. The OSH Bill was the first important issue to be discussed this morning. The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Bill has been in discussion for more than ten years now. As a matter of fact, the document was first presented to the Cabinet in 2011. The OSH Bill is geared at legally establishing a set of minimum standards for a safer work environment for all Belizean workers. Back in 2014, however, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) had rejected the idea; in 2016 the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) called for the OSH Bill to make it back on the negotiating table. In 2018, the National Trade Union Congress of Belize and the BCCI had agreed to form an Occupational Safety and Health working committee, but even that has been fruitless. In 2019, the Social Security Board joined the call for the need of the OSH Bill, but the discussions and negotiations had stalled.
In 2022, the discussions on the OSH Bill were revived, and today, the Minister of Labour, Oscar Requena, explained that the consultations are well underway.
Oscar Requena, Minister of Rural Transformation: “In the months of November and December 2023 the Ministry of Labour in collaboration with an OSH working group engaged in consultations and sensitizations with diverse stakeholders. The OSH working group reviewed feedback received from the BCCI, the Labour Advisory Board, the Central Building Authority, the Ministry of Health and Wellness, the Department of Environment, the Belize Social Security Board, the National Health Insurance and the Ministry of Finance. Proposed amendments to the bill were presented to Cabinet and received approval on January 30, 2024. A revised bill will be presented to the Attorney General’s Ministry with proposals for amendments and when those are returned they will then be again presented to Cabinet and once Cabinet approves they will be coming to the House for presentation. Madam Speaker the primary objective of the OSH Bill is to establish a comprehensive legal framework for the safety and health of workers. This involves defining responsibilities for both workers and employers, repealing the Factories Act Chapter 296 of the Substantive Laws of Belize and implementing key components such as the National Occupational Safety and Health Authority and the Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate. Madam Speaker we have made significant progress and I think it is important for the record that whilst this bill was first presented back in 2011 to Cabinet and came to the House in 2014 quite a long time during which the UDP government was in power they did not see it fit to move this bill. We recognized the importance of this bill both to workers and employers and hence the reason Madam Speaker I can assure that we are going to deliver on bringing the OSH Bill to the House for passage. Madam Speaker in conclusion this legislative initiative emphasizes the ministry’s commitment to prioritizing the safety and wellbeing of the workforce and signifies our collective dedication to fostering a conducive secure working environment for all workers in this country.”