Occupational Safety Bill Goes To House, PM Urges Deliberate Patience
We’ve told you a lot about today’s house meeting so far in the news – but you haven’t heard a whole lot about the legislative business of the meeting. And that’s because of the eight pieces of legislation, 6 of them were all about meeting US standards for transparency in the banking system to discourage terrorism and money laundering.
But one of them was just for the unions. The occupational safety and health bill of 2014 was introduced after the unions staged a disruptive walkout form last month’s house sitting.
So, it was introduced today – by a very wary Prime Minister:
Prime Minister Dean Barrow - Prime Minister of Belize
"This bill, when - or perhaps - if it is made law is going to come at a huge financial cost. It's not an unmixed blessing. I want to be very careful in what I say. It is laudable; it is perhaps timed and over time that this quantum leap forward, but nobody must be under any illusions. There will be a tremendous burden and financial cost, not only to Government - Government as well, but to the private sector, and to small individuals employers, even who have 1-person operations, to become compliant will cost a great deal of money."
Dylan Reneau - President, NTUCB
"The prime minister also said that we have to tone down our expectations. I dream high; I imagined all of these possibilities for years and certainly I will not be deterred by his statements and comments. We have to push this thing forward; it is very critical for our development. Workers and the issues that impact workers also impact this country. And if we can get some resolution to that then there will be development - human development - that is important for the development of a state. Not just to see big buildings and all of that, you want to see people having the type of livelihood that they can enjoy life."
But the Unions weren’t enjoying the meeting when they got there. At the orders of the speaker, who routinely suspends observers who have been disruptive in the gallery, they weren’t allowed in – which prompted the BNTU Belize District Branch President to stage a one woman sit-out – she explained:..
Kathleen E. B. Flowers - President, BNTU Belize City Branch
"When we came here, we were not allowed to go in. We were clearly being told that we were banned for the next 2 sitting. I also wanted to call attention to that so that when I am sitting out here alone, people would question what that is about, and then, I could call the nation's attention to banning the NTUCB from the House, and we have not done anything so to speak."
"But you all were disruptive at the last meeting."
Kathleen E. B. Flowers
"That's understood, and we didn’t get our chance to get first warning, second warning, third warning; people usually get their warnings. It is not immediate eviction. We took our immediate eviction humbly and we left and so we returned today to exercise our constitutional right and we were banned and so I decided that I will do a one-woman protest and I sat out here while the rest of my affiliates went up after we had to beg for us to get inside."
Dylan Reneau – President, NTUCB
"We saw a minister come out, and we asked Minister Boots Martinez why we're not being allowed. He said that he was not aware; Mr. Elrington as well. He went back into the House and spoke to the Speaker who appeared to have had a change of heart, and allowed us to enter the gallery. As proven, we were not rude people."
"Do you all feel sufficiently respect now that the unions have been listened to?"
"Yes, certainly, the bill as we know it has been introduced, and as the Prime Minister said, it will go through a public debate, and we are glad for that as well because now everybody, all workers in this country, have a right to have their say in what goes into this bill. And so we are asking them to come out and be at the forefront for the passage of this bill. This bill is good for both workers and employers."
As the union president mentioned, there will be extensive national consultation on the Health Safety bill as it calls for sweeping safety measures to all facets of work safety, from farm work to the media.