The Senate has passed the Factories Amendment Bill, paving the way for the implementation of heavier fines for breaches of provisions of the Factories Act and its Regulations
Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Dorothy Lightbourne, who piloted the Bill on Friday (July 3), said that investigations by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security have revealed incidents that occur in factories, including fatalities, which are very often due to flagrant breaches of the law.
She noted that even though there are currently 2,134 factories registered under the Act, estimates provided by the Labour and Social Security Ministry indicate that over 600 of them are unregistered.
“These unregistered factories usually flout the requirements of the Act. Further investigations, carried out by officers at the Ministry, also revealed that there are many registered factories that also fail to comply with the requirements of the Act and Regulations which seek to ensure the safety of workers,” she stated.
Minister of National Security, Senator Dwight Nelson (standing), making comments on the Factories Amendment Act 2009, which was tabled in the Senate on July 3, by Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Senator Dorothy Lightbourne (to Senator Nelson’s left). At right is President of the Senate, Senator Oswald Harding.
She said that the breaches were compounded by the inadequacy of the penalties and regulations. The Act has not been amended since 1968, and fines include a $200 penalty for obstructing an inspector in the execution of his duties.
“These inadequate penalties do not act as deterrent and are certainly not punitive. This Bill is proposing to go some way towards remedying the situation,” she pointed out.
Opposition Senator Mark Golding, however, suggested the provision of cease and desist orders, which the factories inspectorate could issue when factories are non-compliant.
“I would like to see, in this legislation, the opportunity taken to introduce more flexibility in the type of sanctions and approaches that can be taken, where there is non-compliance,” he said.
He explained that a cease and desist order would be useful, if a factory is operating in a way which may be endangering workers, to allow the inspector to be able to lock it down, or suspend operations until the problem is corrected, rather than prosecution.
Minister of National Security, Senator the Hon. Dwight Nelson, was concerned about the number of unregistered factories, pointing out that a combination of 10 or more workers could be involved in a “backyard” operation denoted as a factory, according to the Act.
“It is in these areas, primarily, in these backyard operations, that we find the significant safety breaches, that we find machines operating without adequate protective devices, that we find that there is no protection against excessive noise,” he said.
He added that, in a lot of cases, there was no adequate provision of sanitary facilities, as per the number of workers employed.
He also agreed with Senator Golding that, in these situations, there should be some provision in the authority of the factory inspectorate, or the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, to ensure that operations cease.
Senator Lightbourne responded that a comprehensive review is being undertaken to deal with safety in the workplace through the proposed Occupational Safety and Health Act, which is being drafted. The Bill was passed in the House of Representatives on June 9.