The Ministry of Social Protection and more particularly the Minister within the Ministry is concerned with the contents of the editorial of the Stabroek News of Friday, September 2. Under the caption of Workplace Safety, the editorial begins by highlighting the fact that incidents of workplace safety in Guyana have been an issue for a number of years. Such a statement is indisputable, but what is disputable are several unfounded assertions and allegations.
For example, reference was made to the recent Commission of Inquiry into mining deaths which found that during a fifteen month period there had been twenty-eight deaths mostly coming from pitfall cave-ins.
That statement seems to be at variance with the findings of what can be referred to as the Dr Grantley Walrond Committee of Inquiry into Mining Pit Collapse, which found that twenty-five deaths were recorded in sixteen accidents during the twelve-month period June 2014 to June 2015. The said report among other things, found “that there is a lax culture of safety in Guyana. It is a culture which the current Ministry of Social Protection has inherited and has been vigorously confronting on a daily [basis] since May 2015.
The editorial has evidently ignored the existence of the “lax” safety culture and wasted no time in unjustifiably accusing the Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection for the current poor state of occupational health and safety at the national level. It is most unfortunate that the architects of the editorial did not take the time to seek the truth from the relevant source. Had they done so, they would have found the following:
- Minister Scott has inherited a broken and dysfunctional system of workplace safety and health.
- Minister Scott has developed strategies designed to correct the exhibited deficiencies. The editor has relied on parliamentary records in a vain attempt to discredit the Minister, but had the time been taken to examine the Minister’s 2015 budget presentation, it would have been noticed that a segment of his remedial strategy is outlined therein.
The editorial is considered to be one of the most important sections of any newspaper, and it is therefore expected that care, professionalism and moral rectitude would be the core principles embraced in its creation. That was hardly the case with the editorial under focus at this time. Surely, there must have been a blatant disregard for the time honoured ethics pertaining to an editorial.
The fact that reference was made to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 2007 is a clear manifestation of recklessness which could be quite disturbing once revealed. As for as the ministry is aware, the Occupational Safety and Health Act is of 1997 or Chapter 99:10 and not of 2007.
In furtherance of a less than honourable agenda, the thoughts of a former Chairman of the National Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) were called forth, but what needs to be highlighted is that it was Minster Scott who recently appointed the NACOSH which had not functioned for at least the last three years.
It is true that Section 23 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act provides for the establishment of joint workplace safety and health committees, but the law does not place the responsibility for the establishment of those committees within the domain of the ministry, as was implied by the editorial.
However, in the interest of the health and safety of workers and managers alike, the ministry has been assisting employers in this regard on a weekly basis. Toward that end, Minister Scott and his team of technical officers have rolled out a comprehensive programme targeting a total of sixty-two employers, who are being encouraged to partner with the ministry in the promotion of Occupational Safety and Health in their immediate environments.
The ministry wishes to point out the inaccuracy of the editorial when it asserted that the target group of that programme is “companies that have reported workplace accidents in the past.” Once again, if those responsible for the editorial had taken the time to exercise caution and contact the ministry, it would have been revealed to them that the target group is not exclusively made up of employers who reported accidents in the past. Moreover, it is not a one-off initiative but one which is intended to be ongoing.
That is certainly an initiative that was birthed by Minister Scott and anyone who is interested in truth, accuracy and the enhancement of professionalism would have sought access to the necessary personnel and documents which, inter alia, define the expected outcomes of the programmes.
Minister Scott should be commended rather than criticized. Since his assumption of his present portfolio he has taken every possible step to have confidence in the Ministry of Social Protection restored, and irrespective of what the naysayers may say he has taken the performance of the ministry to another level. It is a level which has seen the reports containing findings and recommendations of fatal accidents, serious accidents and other investigations, being handed over to the relevant parties in the presence of the media.
For the first time in the history of the Labour Department all industrial accidents with fatal consequences are being investigated with a degree of nimbleness never witnessed before. To date, the investigation of all fatalities and serious accidents has been completed, or is close to completion. The only fatal accident investigation which is outstanding relates to that which recently occurred at Puruni in the Cuyuni-Mazaruni area. The investigation of that accident is deemed a ‘work in progress’ which will be concluded as soon as the necessary data are gathered and interviews conducted.
The only incomplete non-fatal accident investigation pertains to an accident which occurred at the Eugene F Correira International Airport Ogle and involved an aircraft belonging to Roraima Airways. The completion of that investigation is being hindered by the unavailability of a main witness for more than two months now, and in spite of the challenges being encountered, the ministry is determined to leave no stone unturned.
The allegation that Ministers Lawrence and Scott are often unavailable to speak to the press on a number of labour matters is without substance, and constitutes a deliberate attempt to malign them. The records of the ministry will show that both Ministers operate within the framework of an open door policy and are always available to interact with the media. On several occasions the media were invited to the offices of the Ministers who voluntarily offer their official phone numbers and contact details to all media operatives.
Finally, within the ambit of the Labour Act, Chapter 98:01 the Minister responsible for Labour matters is authorized to intervene and resolve any difference between and among the relevant parties operating on the industrial relations platform. Hence, their involvement in a number of issues is not without moral and legal foundations. Some issues which readily came to mind involve Qualfon, Bosai, Barama, DTL, and Rusal, to name a few.
While some of the relevant parties have been more understanding and co-operative than others, the ministry at all times offered them reasonable and workable solutions to their differences. Usually, it is up to the parties to accept the recommendations of the ministry.
In the case of the Rusal, the ministry’s recorded evidence would show that its recent engagements with the management of the company was attended by meetings with the recognized union immediately before and immediately after the company was engaged.
The ministry wishes to submit that at all times it has acted and will continue to act in the best interest of those who need social protection, and anyone who attempts to suggest to the contrary ought to be pitied.
Without specifically citing him, the editorial was reporting Mr Colin Sparman, a Commissioner on the Grantley Walrond Commission, who revealed the findings of the report to the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association at their AGM in September 2015.
He was reported as saying that 62 men had lost their lives in the mining sector between 2010 and 2015, “with 28 deaths occurring in the last 15 months alone.” Stabroek News regrets that it did not indicate that this covered the period 2014-15, and not the immediate past.
As far as Ministers Volda Lawrence and Keith Scott being unavailable to speak to the press is concerned, Stabroek News reiterates that our reporters have found them often inaccessible.