Guidelines for work in mining sector coming – labour minister

-inspectors suspected negligence in Buckhall deaths

Labour Minister Dr Nanda Kishore Gopaul says government is taking a firm stand against employers who flout Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) standards and has submitted to Cabinet for review a draft order setting out guidelines and working conditions for the mining sector.

Dr Gopaul made these disclosures during a recent interview aired on the National Communications Network. The minister revealed that 308-page document was crafted with input from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, a press statement from the Government Information Agency (GINA) said.

Government has ratified the International Labour Organisation’s Decent Country Work Programme in 2012 and the United Nations Convention on Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S), GINA said.

According to Dr Gopaul, “The act was passed in 1997; we are now presenting the act. It will also cover for the construction industry and several other industries and sectors.” He also recalled a number of accidents in the workplace stemming from negligence and stressed that employers must take steps to ensure that OH&S guidelines are enforced.

“We are unhappy over the number of fatal accidents we have had within recent times. You would know in particular that at [Buck Hall] there was an incident which claimed the lives of about five persons and our inspectors went to the areas to conduct investigations and examine what happened.

They didn’t come out with a favourable report. They believe it was negligence, that the employers turned a blind eye to safety and we are looking at the report, studying the report to see what action we think should be taken against the employers,” Dr Gopaul said. He also advised that the ministry can prosecute employers who flout safety rules. “They must comply with safety at all times,” he said.

Regarding the move by businesses and mining operations to establish themselves in increasingly remote locations, Dr Gopaul said once stakeholders such as the  Guyana Geology and Mines Commission have informed the ministry about those operations, as far as possible, officers will make checks to ensure that the law is being enforced.

He lauded organisations such as the Women Miners’ Association for helping to investigate and root out instances of child or forced labour and trafficking in persons.

Dr Gopaul acknowledged that due to the remoteness of some businesses, making regular checks is difficult; however, he cautioned employers against engaging in illicit practices.

“Know the laws, ensure that you observe the laws, don’t engage in trafficking, don’t engage in child labour or you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” he said. The minister also pointed out that government has also taken steps to ensure that the laws have been written in Portuguese and Chinese dialects due to the many non-nationals operating in the interior locations.

“We don’t want to prosecute persons in a willy-nilly manner, we want to educate them first, we want to bring to their attention our laws so that they can comply. We will take a tough line against violators and none will be spared,” he said.