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Meaningful steps to advance OSH Bill made

The Occupational Safety and Health Bill has stalled for years now, but it seems steps are being made to finalise this key piece of legislation. Back in April, the President of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize, Luke Martinez indicated that the trade unions were satisfied with the progress made. And so has the Belize Chamber of Commerce. We spoke to President, Marcello Blake about it. 

Marcello Blake, President, Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry: “At the end of the day what was being placed in the public’s view was not the reality of what was behind the scenes. The NTUCB and the chamber have always been working on the OSH Bill collectively. Behind the scenes we’ve had working groups for months combing through every line of the bill and you’ll appreciate that the bill or I should say the bill we initially got and were looking at wasn’t necessarily the bill that was presented and so we had to go back and do the exercise yet again on the presented bill. So we have gone through that extensively with representation from both sides and we are comfortable and confident now that we have what we believe is a workable document and so we want to now make that submission to the Ministry of Local Government to review as a part of their exercise that is ongoing in regards to the labor act reform or revamp. So we want them to take a look at it. Of course we would prefer that the OSH Bill remains as a stand point piece of legislation rather than being subsumed into the Labor Act and so we want to make sure that our points that are collectively drafted are placed before the minister for him to review and consider.”

One of the most important takeaways from this piece of the bill, according to the Chamber, is to ensure that employees are safe and productive. Blake explains how this can be achieved. 

Marcello Blake, President, Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry: “The key ones are to ensure that there is the safety of employees and there is safeguards for the employer because at the end of the day while we could look at specifics that’s really the overarching. It’s making sure that the employer is supporting a healthy work environment for those employees because at the end of the day we anticipate that that also lends to a more productive employee.”

What about the small number of individuals who do important but dangerous jobs? Such was the case with 22-year-old Jevaughn Ramclam who plummeted to his death from a 200-foot tower. Ramclam’s father, Troy Polonio complained that for workers in this profession, it’s hard to acquire insurance. We asked Blake how the OSH Bill considers cases like this.

Marcello Blake, President, Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry: “It will encourage that the employers put in place the necessary regulations requirements to ensure that an employee is kept safe. One of the things that also is to be considered there is the fact that you have quite a number of employers who provide these safety gear, safety equipment and employees tend to, some, choose not to use the equipment and resources that are provided. What the bill attempts to do is to ensure that the employer is put in a position where they are required to provide and if they do then it also creates that safeguard for them because if they are and you as an employee are choosing not to it’s kind of difficult to be able to hold the employer accountable if the employees aren’t necessarily operating by the standards of the company.”