Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection, Simona Broomes made it clear during her contribution to the recent budget debate that she intends to implement major reforms that will show more recognition of the importance of Guyanese.
She said that these changes are necessary and will show that the APNU+AFC government “will not sacrifice your wellbeing at the altar of expediency only to enrich a few. Those days are over.”
Broomes expressed that Guyana has to carve out methods and programmes that will cushion or minimize the negative impacts wrought by practices that treat workers as incidental appendages and not as primary stakeholders.
To this end, she said that her Ministry intends to engage in regional and trans-Atlantic agreements with the International Labour Organization (ILO) Core Labour Standards.
She said that this will always be in focus, since these are the standards embraced by the United Nations, Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank, CARICOM and similar institutions, and form the prerequisite in ensuring that workers are guaranteed a level playing field, a chance to be heard, and their views to be factored in the decision-making process.
As for changes to the labour department, the politician said that it is considered as key and critical to satisfying the needs of the working public.
“Already we have commenced a process of engaging stakeholders with a view of developing an agreed mechanism to eliminate conflicts between labour unions and employers, some of which have been languishing for months and sometimes even years. This unfortunate state of affairs, which constitutes a denial of justice, remains a black eye on this nation’s history, and it must be removed.”
Further, Broomes revealed that plans are afoot to establish an Industrial Dispute Tribunal, similar to those in other developing and developed countries. She explained that this Tribunal would ensure the maintenance of the equilibrium in the industrial relations landscape and a number of recurring issues would be eliminated.
Broomes noted that during the past 20 years, the Consultative Association of Guyanese Industry and the umbrella bodies of the trade unions have been calling for a Social Compact. In supporting that call, the Minister said that the time for talking has long gone. She said that the Ministry will encourage the signing of a document encompassing the parameters of the compact.
The Junior Minister expressed that this document is necessary even among Government agencies such as the Guyana Revenue Authority and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission so as to better tackle industrial issues.
Broomes asserted that acting on a recommendation from the ILO, her Ministry is in the process of delinking the departments so that a more professional and specialized service can be delivered.
“These changes being undertaken are intended to strengthen our capacity both qualitatively and quantitatively against a backdrop of a widening mandate which now includes Child Protection on a higher scale as well as the fight against Child Labour, and Trafficking in Persons. We need to have trained staff equipped with the resources to effectively perform their functions without fear or favour.”
The Minister said that this would directly address the current challenge her office faces from not having a continuous presence throughout Guyana. She said that ultimately, there would be a permanent presence in all regions with the establishment of satellite locations.
Broomes also said that the existing legislation, though commendable, urgently requires amendments and reforms to reflect the current needs of the society and the anticipated changes which the future will bring. She said that several pieces of legislation reflect outdated penalties which are not consequential enough to encourage compliance.
The Parliamentarian said that there are several regulations made under the Occupational Safety & Health Act that have to be enacted with great urgency, after consultations with the relevant stakeholders. She said that these include Mining, Noise, Chemical Forestry and Manufacturing Regulations. She asserted that these aim to introduce new guidelines for compliance to safety and health requirements in their respective fields.
As for a social ill which is close to her heart, Trafficking In Persons, Broomes said that for the third consecutive year, that is to say, this year, Guyana has been placed in the Tier Two Watch List of Trafficking in Persons.
She said, “It is more than ten years since we have enacted the combating of Trafficking in Persons Act, but it is unfortunate that I have to submit that for ten years, precious little was done to make that legislation useful and effective. This unacceptable situation must and will be changed.”
She said that “the deliverables” in this regard depend very much on the implementation of the National Strategy Plan which flows from the appointment of the appropriate task force.
Broomes stated that there will be comprehensive training on the rudiments of the legislation which speaks to Trafficking in Persons, and to make the legislation more effective, the necessary regulations will be passed and implemented.
“I wish to categorically state that anyone caught in breach of this Act, will be prosecuted with utmost vigour,” she added.
She stated that there will be greater collaboration among the various agencies which include the Ministries of Public Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Public Health, Education, and others.
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