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Nov 28, 2023

OSH Bill: Arguably, the Most Delayed Piece of Legislation

Interest is once again being generated by the Government of Belize, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the National Trade Union Congress of Belize to proceed with the enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Bill.  The OSH Bill, as many would know it, is a much delayed piece of legislation that seeks to protect employers, employees and customers from injury on the job.  First introduced by the Barrow administration in 2014, the proposed law has languished for almost a decade before being picked up once again by government.  As part of the ongoing conversation, we look at the contributions of the trade unions, the private sector, as well as the public service in the shaping and passage of the OSH Bill.  Here’s News Five’s Isani Cayetano.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Most employers, both public and private, have a legal responsibility to establish and maintain a safe and healthy environment for their workers.  Yet, almost three million people die each year from causes that can be attributed to exposure to occupational risk factors.  For almost a decade, the unions and representatives of the business community have been clamoring for the introduction and passage of legislation that protects employees from workplace-related accidents or diseases.


Luke Martinez

Luke Martinez, President, N.T.U.C.B.

“For us, as the workers’ representatives,, this is something that needed to happen a long time ago.  Workers, we continue to get injured, we’re dying on the job and so it is something that needs to happen.  We’ve done our part and we continue to do our part.”


Despite all efforts to enact an Occupational safety and Health Bill, a vast majority of workers across the country, in both sectors, are not legally covered from injuries on the job.  Why?


Valentino Shal

Valentino Shal, C.E.O., Ministry of Labor

“I think there has been a lack of interest over the years, over the last ten years.  There are some people who wanted this to go through but it didn’t have sufficient support.  Then, there has been, I think, a lack of political will on the past and previous administrations as well that they’re not sure that they want to do something like this.  And then when the last administration introduced this bill in the house, there was resistance to the bill from some sectors of society, and that’s when, I think, that a joint committee was created between the unions and the chamber to say well, what exactly is the issue with the bill?  Can you tell us what needs to be done with the bill in order for this to go through.  Unfortunately, it languished in that process for another eight years.”


Wilmer Coyi

Falls are a common cause of occupational injuries and fatalities, especially in construction, extraction, transportation, healthcare, and building cleaning and maintenance.  The death of Wilmer Coyi on October twenty-fifth, serves as an unfortunate reminder that in the absence of an OSH Bill, workers remain unprotected.  Nonetheless, incremental steps are now being taken towards bringing the proposed legislation to force.


Luke Martinez

“When it was presented in 2014, I was working at the National Assembly and as a staff at the National Assembly, we had to take minutes and we went on countrywide consultations and one of the biggest concerns at that time was costing to the employers.  Fast-forward to now, that is not going to change.  What is going to change is that we’re going to be working in a safe environment, and most people have this misconception that the bill is only going to have a cost on the employers and that workers will be getting a free ride.  No.  This bill also holds workers responsible.”


The primary focus in occupational health is on three different objectives: the maintenance and promotion of workers’ health and working capacity; the improvement of working environment and work to become conducive to safety and health, as well as the development of work organizations and working cultures in a direction which supports health and safety at work and, in doing so, also promotes a positive social climate and smooth operation and may enhance productivity of the undertakings.


Valentino Shal

“We have it in our care now.  We have it in our custody now.  We have it now as our duty to get this done and we have taken it and we will get this done because we will not allow another year, another five or another ten or another twenty years for this.  I think it is time or past time for this to be in place.  So we have the commitment of the ministry, we have the commitment of the Cabinet to get this done.  So it is now our duty to ensure that that happens.”


The long overdue OSH Bill is closer to becoming a reality, but until then, a number of companies have taken the initiative to implement policies around the workplace that promote occupational safety and health.


Marcello Blake

Marcello Blake, President, B.C.C.I.

“There are so many companies that are already operating in Belize that have standards well beyond OSH for us to learn from and that’s… we’re in the consultation and in our working groups we had the benefit of those persons providing their input and providing their insights to be able to make it a better bill.  But I agree, the time has gotten where we’re nine years waiting, right, 2014, 2023 on a bill and with the recent situations we’ve seen in the last couple weeks, I mean it’s more important now than ever, I think, for us to move ahead with this because at the end of the day, people are losing their lives.”


Isani Cayetano for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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