Labour Ministry, trade unions urged to take on delinquent employers

– failure to pay employees contributions must be made health and safety issue, NIS official says

A senior official of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) has told this newspaper that neither government officials nor trade union leaders can make any serious claim to being concerned about health and safety issues that impact on workers either on or off the job unless they demonstrate a preparedness to put greater pressure on private sector employees to improve their tardiness in the payment of worker NIS contributions.

Labour Minister Manzoor Nadir

Responding to remarks made recently by Labour Minister Manzoor Nadir and General Secretary of the Guyana Labour Union (GLU) Carvil Duncan regarding the importance of health and safety considerations at the workplace, the NIS official said the remarks amounted to “sheer hypocrisy.” While accepting the recent television comment made by Duncan that more emphasis needs to be placed on health as an element of worker welfare, the official said such an argument cannot be separated from paying more attention to financing health care. “What makes these various soundings on health and safety at the workplace laughable is the fact that the officials who make these statements ignore entirely the relationship between paying worker NIS contributions and helping to ensure their health and their safety.”

The public comment made by Duncan was endorsed by the Labour Minister and the NIS official told Stabroek Business that rather than simply allowing their comments “to pass” the GLU General Secretary and the Labour Minister should, perhaps, join forces to apply pressure to private sector employees “to ensure that the financial arrangements with the NIS to which workers will have to resort in cases of illness are in order. Okay, they have made to point about the importance of workers’ health and the fact that some workers may have festering health problems that may only materialize after they retire. What are they now going to do about it?”

The NIS official confirmed that the scheme may have indeed been confronted with cases of illnesses that might have been contracted by workers prior to retirement but which had only manifested themselves after retirement.  “I agree with Duncan that in such cases there is no employer to look to. The fact is, however, that if the unions had been vigilant about the payment of those workers’ NIS contributions during their working years, they would have at least had that safety net to fall back on. In many cases it is much too late,” the NIS source said.

Asked what he felt trade unions could do to address this problem the NIS officer told Stabroek

General Secretary of the Guyana Labour Union (GLU) Carvil Duncan

Business that part of the solution lay in “integrating issues of payment of NIS contributions into the whole health and safety discourse. It is not just a question of seeking to protect workers from injury or from work-related illnesses.  It is also a matter of putting measures in place to ensure that in cases of illness or injury there are resources available to pay for treatment. I am no trade unionist but I really do believe that the timely payment of workers’ NIS contributions ought to be a key industrial relations issue,” the official said.

This newspaper has published a number of stories and editorials on delinquency in the payment of NIS contributions, particularly by private sector entities and last year, the scheme confirmed that outstanding payments amounted to more than $500 million. The NIS official told Stabroek Business that seeming official indifference coupled with the difficulties associated with litigation has left the scheme frustrated and created crises for workers.

“Of course there have been problems; and I have always believed that setting aside the delinquency of the employers and the slowness of the courts there is also what appears to be an official unwillingness by the unions to really take the pressure to employers across the board to pay up,” the official said.

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