Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
DECRYING THE continued absence of an Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), Opposition Senator Kavan Gayle has urged Labour Minister Derrick Kellier to quickly take such legislation to Parliament to help protect the rights of workers.
Gayle, who opened the debate on a motion in the Senate on Friday, noted that the legal framework dealing with occupational safety and health at the workplace was outdated.
"Jamaica really needs an Occupational Safety and Health Act urgently to take into consideration all the factors which have developed since then in terms of the well-being of workers who work in dangerous environments," Gayle said.
Occupational Safety and Health is concerned with protecting the safety, health and welfare of people engaged in work or employment. Currently, such matters are covered in the Factories Act and its accompanying regulations. Those regulations are the Factories Regulations 1961, the Building Operations and Works of Engineering Construction 1968 and the Ship and Docks Regulations 1968.
"The goals of occupational safety and health programmes include fostering a safe and healthy work environment and may also protect co-workers, family members, employers, customers and many others who might be affected by the workplace environment," Gayle noted.
Make employees safe
He argued that the new law should seek to ensure employers provide a safe and healthy environment for workers. Gayle, for example, argued that people have a right to know about the potential hazards of their workplace.
"They must have the right to refuse work if they believe it is imminently dangerous to their health and safety; they must be able to participate in the process of identifying and resolving the OHS (occupational health and safety) concerns; and most importantly, they must be free from reprisals when they act in compliance with the provisions of the act," Gayle said.
Government Senator Lambert Brown, in supporting the call for the OSHA to be urgently enacted, noted that "it has been a long time since we have been at it".
"Employers wanted to have it perfect, employers didn't want some of the things that Senator Gayle outlined to be there. The right to refuse dangerous work, for example," Brown said.
He said that in bringing the bill to the Parliament urgently, the Government would be doing a lot to protect workers' rights.
"I hope that if it comes, if it is not complete, if there are some things left out, we are not going to say it's piecemeal, don't pass it. Let's pass it and then build on it," Brown said.
He added: "Let's face the criticisms of employers if there are any, let's face the criticisms from whichever quarter, but let's protect the workers."
Last April, Kellier said the Government would fast-track passage of the legislation in Parliament, once review of the draft bill, which is with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, is completed.