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The Factories Amendment Bill, which increases the fines and penalties payable for breaching provisions of the Act, was passed in the House of Representatives Tuesday (June 9).
Minister of Labour and Social Security, Hon. Pearnel Charles, who piloted the Bill, explained that the Act regulates premises in which mechanical and manual powers are used in making and repairing any article for commercial purposes.
The Act also provides for the registration of factories; supervision of machinery used in factories; the approval of buildings to be used as factories; as well as the appointment of factory inspectors to enforce its provisions via inspections, investigations and prosecutions.
At present there are over 2,134 factories registered under the Act. It is, however, estimated that some 600 factories still remain unregistered and, therefore, able to avoid the watchdog functions of the Factory Inspectorate which falls under the legislation.
“This untenable situation is manifested in incidents at the workplace, incidents like serious accidents, some fatal. While, upon investigation by the Ministry, we found flagrant breaches of the law,” Mr. Charles said.
He said that investigations by his Ministry revealed that, whereas, some registered factories are fully compliant with the Act, others fail to take corrective actions in terms of ensuring that all safeguards for workers, provided by the legislation, are complied with.
“This is further compounded by the fact that monetary penalties for breaches of the Act reflect very inadequate sums, which are not a deterrent for failing to abide by the rules and regulations,” he added.
He said that the amendments were being made, so as to make it a deterrent to persons operating factories from breaking the law. He also stated that the changes to the fines are being made to align the Act with current economic realities.
“(Previously) a person in breach is liable of a penalty not exceeding $100. This has been increased to a sum of $100,000. Section 17 stipulates penalties for contravention of sections 14, 16 and 21 except for section 3c, the Ministry has, however, appreciated the need for penalties matching the gravity of each offence and as such new penalties have been prescribed for each offence,” Mr. Charles said.
The fines for failure to file annual returns have been increased from $100 to $100,000. The fines for failure to exhibit a certificate of registration has increased from $100 to a sum not exceeding $60,000, and fines for factories not notifying the Ministry of accidents and industrial disease has moved from $100 to $300,000.
“The time is right for these changes to be made to the Factories Act, so as to ensure that this piece of legislation does not become ineffective,” Mr. Charles said.
In his remarks, Opposition Spokesperson on Labour and Social Security, Derrick Kellier, noted that the Opposition had no objection to the amendments.
The Factories Act is the only legislation currently dealing with the occupational safety and health of employees, while on the job. However, Mr. Charles has promised to speed up the tabling of the proposed Occupation Safety and Health Act, which promises to provide more comprehensive coverage of workers on the job, and which has been in the making over the past 10 years.