Labour and Social Security Minister Shahine Robinson on Tuesday opened the long-awaited debate on the Occupational Safety and Health bill in the House of Representatives.
When passed into law, it will have far reaching and consequential effects on how the workplace is operated, including how workers are employed, treated and terminated.
The bill, which is 10 years in the making and which spans both administrations and at least four Ministers of Labour, seeks to, among other things, expand the definition of the term ‘worker’.
Robinson, in explained the rationale behind the move, said “… some employers in an effort to avoid the obligations which emanate from the employment relationship seek to reclassify an arrangement which is substantively that of an employer and employee to that of an employer and independent contractor or an ambiguous derivative.”
Robinson said such an arrangement “effectively casts the employed person outside the scope of existing labour legislation.”
Trade unions have long been pointing to a growing trend in both the public and private sector where an ever increasing number of Jamaican workers are being employed on contract. Some workers, having been terminated from their jobs, are reemployed on contract. This effectively limits the obligation of the employer to the employee.
In the meantime, the Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act will be amended to ensure it remains relevant. The Labour Minister said the amendment will give the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) the “jurisdiction to hear complaints arising from under the Occupational safety and Health bill when enacted.”
To this end, a division of the tribunal to be known as the Occupational Safety and Health division will be created.