The oil and gas and aviation sectors are to be included in an “alliance” created by the Ministry of Social Protection in an effort to curb the incidence of accidents in the various sectors, Minister in the Ministry of Social Protection Keith Scott told the National Assembly in his post-budget presentation earlier this week.
While the presentation proffered no details regarding the structure of the alliance and how it will function Scott said that the alliance already includes the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, (GGMC), the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and the Forestry Department to better monitor safe work practices in remote areas” and has now been extended to include the Ministry of Natural Resources. A further extension, he said, will embrace “the offshore enterprises and those agencies involved in the aircraft industry,” Scott said in his presentation.
The disclosure by Scott came against the backdrop of what Scott said was government’s concern with the number of workplace fatalities that have occurred, particularly in the mining sector, “in recent times.” While no statistics were provided on mining sector accidents for the current year, Scott disclosed that for the year so far a total of 506 “industrial accidents” had occurred resulting in 19 fatalities. “This is an untenable situation particularly in the mining sector where the majority of the fatalities occurred,” Scott said.
The disclosure that “the offshore enterprises” will be inducted into government’s safety and health ‘inner sanctum” would appear to point to movement in the wider process of preparing for the advent of oil and gas recovery in 2020. Public disclosure on a safety regime that will take account of the considerations associated with oil and gas recovery has secured only limited prominence up to this time.
In the wake of Scott’s presentation, General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress, Lincoln Lewis told the Stabroek Business that given the APNU+AFC’s “historic indifference” to the abuse and humiliation of workers employed with the majority Russian-owned Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc (BCGI), there was a hollow ring to the pronouncement by Scott regarding the mandate of the Ministry of Social Protection with regard to “fairness, justice and equality.”
Asserting that the Minister “must be one of very few people who believes that the administration honestly pursues that mandate”, Lewis told the Stabroek Business that government “spent most of its time failing to make meaningful decisions designed to ensure that the Russian managers at BCGI respected the rights of its employees. If you want to know the extent to which fairness, justice and equity obtained at BCGI just ask the workers themselves,” Lewis told the Stabroek Business.
In his address, Scott disclosed that government was moving towards the amendment of the 76 year-old Labour Act which he said was ‘deficient in many ways” notwithstanding the “series of piecemeal adjustments” that it had undergone over the years. Scott told the National Assembly that the values of the present political administration cannot be manifested with the current laws especially as these relate to “ordinary citizens who can be advantaged by a very powerful employer.”
But Lewis dismissed what he described as Scott’s “platitudes” asserting that “laws can have no traction in the absence of a clear commitment to ensuring their full and effective application. I am afraid both the present administration and the previous one had myriad opportunities to restrain the Russian managers at BCGI and they failed to do so,” Lewis said.
Scott, meanwhile, told the National Assembly that government had undertaken to establish either an Industrial Relations Court or an Industrial Relations Tribunal and that in pursuit of this objective his Ministry had undertaken engagements with “the major stakeholders” who comprise the National Tripartite Committee which is currently examining the proposed Bill designed to bring into existence either a court or a tribunal. The objective of this institution, Scott said, would be “to enhance labour/management relations and ultimately the quality of life of all workers, who should be able to experience decent working conditions.”