Jun 09, 2022 News
…question who is holding companies responsible
Kaieteur News – The recently renewed Liza 1 Permit has included a number of stipulations to be followed in terms of workers occupational and safety rights; significantly more than what was provided in the old operating permit. But local labour unions are questioning the manner in which monitoring of those rights are being conducted as workers continue to complain about poor treatment within the sector. The unions have highlighted a number of grave issues plaguing Guyanese within the new oil and gas industry, and are calling for better monitoring of the sector to protect Guyanese workers.
The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) General Secretary, Aslim Singh told this newspaper that a lot of what the new permit speaks about regarding the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) is already a requirement of the OSH Act.
“So it really does not add anything new but probably makes it a bit more specific. However, what is not clear is who actually ensures the provisions are upheld.” Based on the information being provided in the EPA permit, Singh said, it would appear that the EPA is tasked with ensuring the measures. “But whether they can adequately ensure the OSH provisions are upheld is not clear.” Singh suggested that the Ministry of Labour’s OSH Department may be better to handle the matter, “but from what I saw, I am not sure they have locus standi in the context of the permit.”
Singh said that the GAWU has previously indicated that they received reports that personal protective equipment (PPEs), were not always provided to workers, although it is a legal requirement for the type of work in the sector. Additionally, there have been accidents at workplaces which may not have been reported, Singh disclosed. “It therefore brings into focus how will the relevant conditions in respect of Section 11 of the permit be monitored and what would be the penalties for non-compliance?”
President of the General Workers Union (GWU), Norris Witter has also questioned the monitoring aspect of oil operations in relation to local workers. He said that even before the question of monitoring and consequences is brought to the fore, there must be the “political will” to earnestly address workers issues within the sector. He said the government must say whether they have the complement of inspectors that could manage the system and whether the proper training has been provided to ensure capacity in conducting the necessary tasks. Assuming that there is a full complement of inspectors and they are trained, Witter questioned whether these agents would even be given the latitude to conduct their work professionally by identifying those not adhering to laws and whether the political directorate would allow for sanctions against these companies.
While the union leader does not think the oil and gas workers are at the mercy of the oil companies, he believes that only “independent” unions, those not affiliated with the administration, can bring real representation to the workers. He said even when reports were made against Exxon and the Labour Ministry, along with a labour union, attempted to go onboard the offshore vessel, they were not allowed. “What is required is for independent unions like the GWU to step in and actively work toward the protection of workers’ rights.” Witter noted that unions with “incestuous” relationships with the government will find it hard to do anything with the support of the administration if their activities make government or the oil operator unhappy.
The Liza 1 Permit under Section 10, identifies four matters under the title “Employees” which speaks to the provision of PPEs, the employment of a health officer, and adherence of the OSH Act, while the renewed permit specifically provides 26 items to be looked at in relation to worker’s rights under the title “Employees and Personal Safety”. The permit requires that the operator ensure its on and off shore contractors are duly authorised by the agency for the purposes under the permit. It also requires the permit holder to ensure that adequate safety gears are available, worn and kept in good condition. There is, however, no mention of the permit holder being responsible for its contractors to ensure that the regulations are adhered to; nor does it state the consequences for the companies failing to adhere to the permit requirements.
Kaieteur News was told that some of the complaints affecting local workers include an oil and gas staff being sent home for inquiring about PPE safety gears. In separate instances, two oil and gas workers were also sent home after being injured on the job, but received no compensation. One clear issue, however, is that local oil and gas workers are fearful of going public with complaints against oil companies. Given the small sector, they fear being blackballed. The labour unions have all bemoan this grave situation.
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