PUBLIC Service Association (PSA) President Watson Duke has claimed the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Agency, the enforcement arm of the OSH Authority, was a law unto themselves and more corrupt than the Police Service.He was speaking yesterday as the PSA, other unions and the Consortium for Disability Organisations sat before the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Local Authorities to discuss the OSH Act.
Duke claimed officers from the OSH Agency were not visiting sites within 24 hours as stipulated, were leaving unions out of the process and reports were shrouded in secrecy. He also said the OSH Authority would only shut down a building when forced to by protesting workers.
“The OSH Authority has failed the nation and specifically failed public sector workers.”
He said from the previous Patrick Manning administration to the present, the PSA had responded to more than 3,000 calls regarding complaints about health and safety. He reported the most serious complaints were air quality, including instances of dangerous bacteria, followed by structural integrity. He referred to an incident last week where a nurse at Mt Hope was injured when a ceiling tile fell on her, and spoke about elevators, at the Twin Towers and the Customs Department in the Government Campus Plaza, dropping and injuring people.
Duke said while the legislation was well balanced, the weakness was that it did not provide for action to be taken against inspectors who were maliciously prosecuting people under the guise of being independent. He also said it does not stipulate that the inspectors have to be permanent.
“As long as they are not permanent, they will be fickle and pawns in the hands of the political directorate.”
He said of the more than 500 government buildings in TT, none of them were OSH compliant.
“OSH (Agency) ought to be going out as police and enforce the law. They go out and break the law. Somebody needs to police OSH.”
He also accused the Fire Service of producing fraudulent fire certificates and JSC chairman Ian Roach said that was a major allegation which the committee would be looking into to have verified. National Union of Government and Federated Workers second deputy president general, Clifton Simpson, said one challenge was that a number of buildings were leased by ministries and there was a legal challenge in having the landlord make the building compliant. He said in these cases where the buildings were unfit, workers were often left in the building because of issues of productivity. “And the public perception is given that workers just don’t want to work or they are lazy when, in truth and in fact, by staying in the building you are making them more sick and less productive,” Simpson said. Joint Trade Union Movement representative Chandrasain Ramsingh said notwithstanding the passage of the OSH Act 2014 and operations of the OSH Agency from 2007, “The OSH Act is ineffective at this point in time. There is insufficient protection of workers and the OSH Agency is under-resourced in order to efficiently, effectively and confidently undertake the necessary task to the highest level of OSH compliance necessary in Trinidad and Tobago.”
He said with 26 inspectors, 23 available for inspection, the OSH Agency was understaffed and were only conducting 14 inspections per month while the amount of accidents had increased by 124 per cent from 2015/2016 to 2016/2017. Ramsingh said the Act did not cover domestics nor contractors working at people’s homes and there was also a grey area regarding trainees in the workplace. Roach said it was a common thread from the submissions that the OSH Act appeared to be lacking in a number of ways. Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus was on the JSC but recused herself from speaking. She admitted to Newsday afterwards that the OSH Authority was under-resourced but the new board was working hard to increase resources. She also said regulations were finally in draft and the OSH Authority had clear deliverables.
“There is room for improvement.”