A special sitting of the House of Representatives convened today in the nation’s capital. There was the introduction and passing of a number of legislations and we’ll review those bills a little later on in the newscast. But first, to a bold move by the National Trade Union Congress of Union that just might go down as a hallmark moment in parliament history. The NTUCB left no question as to their discontent with Government’s foot dragging on a piece of legislation that the Unions have long been advocating to be brought before the House. That would-be law is the referred to as the Occupational Health and Safety Bill. The drafted-bill, says the Unions seeks to protect workers on the jobsite by addressing working conditions, equipment and safety requirements. This morning, after the Prime Minister made note of the brokered solution to the crisis in the sugar industry involving BSCFA, BSI and ASR, the aid for the sugar cane farmers garnered applause from Government Ministers and supporters, but was met with confrontation on the part of members of the NTUCB – an agency which claims that their needs are being ignored. So, they attempted to get the attention of Government – here’s what went down.
Hon. Dean Barrow- Prime Minister of Belize
“In any case, Mr. Speaker, this is a wonderful breakthrough. ASR understands that this Government is about partnering with them and the BSCFA to take the sugar industry in this country to new heights; thank you very much”.
Well, they did get our attention. The press took off behind the agitated union members and spoke President Dylan Reneau outside the National Assembly.
“We have had the Occupational Safety and Health Bill in front of Cabinet for some time now. In fact, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Labour have promised the NTUCB and we have it on tape. They have promised to introduce the Bill and pass the Occupational Safety and Health Bill. We have seen Bills after our Bill and get passed through the House. So, we had to make a very strong statement. This is just the first step because as we said in our Annual General Meeting, the year 2014 will be the year of the workers and the year of action.
Reporter: “Why has it frustrated in the system so long? I remember it been demonstrative statement you all put up which apparently had no effect . Why is it languishing?’
Mr. Dylan Reneau: “We would like the Prime Minister to respond to that because all the workers I mean, done. The social partners agreed to the legislation. Why has it not moved?”
The NTUCB says that it is a bill of immediate consequence, as it deals with safety and health issues. He, along with Vice-President, Marvin Mora explained their urgency on the passing of the bill.
Mr. Dylan Reneau: “The Bill is important because we have an archaic legislation on the books right now that deal with safety and health issues. We’ve had the worker in BSI that was burnt and actually died thereafter because of some issues with the workplace. What we are saying is that we are seeing more and more precarious jobs in Belize and we want the legislation to protect the workers. They also look at the Social Security Act. They have been passing people off…instead of giving them occupational injuries, they have been giving them sick leave, and that’s a different benefit. So, there are so many things that would capture in this Occupational Safety and Health Bill that will benefit and would benefit the country because if employers have sick workers, then they can’t get any productivity”.
‘”We mean business. W are not here to play. This is our people who are being hurt out there, is a people who are on the line; it’s our Social Security money which is being depleted because of the fact that we are paying out too much, which counts down to organizational safety and health. If we can pass these laws, we can benefit everybody,; we will see the ripple effects translated to every single aspect of our economy”.
Reporter: “Do you think you got the Prime Minister’s attention, President?”
Mr. Dylan Reneau: “I think we obviously did get his attention, and we also want to get the nation’s attention. I am telling you: in 2014, there will be much more activism on the part of NTUCB”.
And so it seems that the Union is anticipating an active 2014 year. Reneau says, enough is enough.
Reporter: “In terms of…I think I heard Ms. Kathleen maybe saying on the way out that so much attention is being paid to ASR/BSI. However, the worker’s right issue has for so long overlooked. Do you think that because of these big stakes, those people get more attention?”
Mr. Dylan Reneau: “Yes. We have been disrespected time and time again. So, enough is enough. You could say that we were the ones who put this government into power because we are the worker s that vote and we wanted a change. Basically, we are promised that our issues would have been dealt with and nothing has been dealt with substantially. So, enough is enough; we have to take a very strong stand”.
Reporter: “What did you do in there; you disrupted the House meeting. When you say, action in 2014, do you all intend to be disruptive?”
Mr. Dylan Reneau: “I think you heard the current Prime Minister stating that there was a time for civil disobedience? Well, we hope that that doesn’t reach to that stage, but if it does reach, NTUCB will be ready”.
Reporter: “The Prime Minister said that members of the PUP are putting money in their pockets. I don’t notice him being disciplined”.
Hon. Julius Espat: “No. All I am saying is, when it comes to putting money into pockets, I believe and I agree with the Prime Minister in this case, that any public money that is given to any area representative, any public official, you should account for it. So, if that is what they want, I will not object to it…and if that’s the case that some people are doing that, well, then it has to stop…for God’s sake stop it!”