Wed | Jul 15, 2020

Employers could face sanctions for breaching workplace-safety law

Published:Monday | October 28, 2019 | 12:06 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer


Legislation is well-advanced and could be introduced before year end to sanction employers who victimise employees for refusing to work in conditions that expose them to occupational hazards.

State Minister of Labour and Social Security Zavia Mayne has said that the Occupational Safety and Health Act, 2017, which is currently before a joint select committee of Parliament, will propose penalties for breaches of the law.

Mayne’s remarks came last week during a Knowledge Forum at the Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel in St Andrew organised by Red Stripe themed ‘Occupational Safety and Health: An Economic Driver’.

“An important feature under this bill is that the worker has a right to cease work in the event that it poses a risk to their safety and health. This is a matter we know may carry some amount of reprisal,” the state minister noted.

“We don’t want a situation whereby in circumstances where production targets have to be met and conditions are unsafe and a worker decides to emphasise safety as paramount, they may become victims of unfair treatment by a person conducting the business or undertaking,” he added.

Highlighting a provision in the legislation that will address this issue, Mayne said that the proposed law forbids any form of malice, unfair treatment, reprisal or threat of reprisal, dismissal, sanction, or suspension of any worker who refuses to operate in an environment that is unsafe and unhealthy. The act, Mayne said, is geared towards ensuring compliance and sets out notices and warnings for breaches.

According to the state minister, when the proposed legislation becomes law, if warnings are ignored, “you have to be sanctioned, and what we want would be such that it becomes prohibitive”.

He explained that these sanctions have not yet been determined, but said that “it is going to be such that once you think about this sanction, you would conclude that it is better to comply”.

Quizzed by The Gleaner for data on the number of complaints made by workers who are punished for refusing to work in conditions that are unsafe, Mayne said that he could not provide that information at that time. However, he said that a department exists within the ministry to receive and address complaints from employees and that the unit has been recording grouses that are “too numerous”.