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The Ministry of Labour and Social Security is in the process of undertaking review to address safety in the workplace through the proposed Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Portfolio Minister, Hon. Pearnel Charles, said that the bill will be brought to Parliament after the relevant procedural steps have been taken.
He was speaking in the House of Representatives yesterday (March 3), where the Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes (Amendment) Act 2010 was passed with changes to facilitate the referral of disputes of rights only to the Industrial Dispute Tribunal (IDT) in respect of the individual non unionised worker. This was accomplished by modifying the term “industrial dispute” which was contained in clause 2 of the Bill.
Minister Charles stated that the sub clause will eventually refer to the provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, once it is passed. “The guarantee of a healthy and safe work environment for the Jamaican worker is an important right, which should be referable to the IDT,” he stated.
Disputes of rights refer to the application of existing labour laws and agreements including maternity leave and severance. This is different from disputes of interest, which deal with matters that are bargained between the workers and their employers, including wage increases.
Minister Charles explained that there is an important legal rationale for restriction as to the types of matters, which can be referred to the IDT in respect of the individual non unionised worker. This rationale has its genesis in a central legal principle in contract law, which addresses the freedom of the parties to enter into contractual arrangements and to choose the precise terms that form a legally enforceable obligation.
The amendment, he said, will provide non unionised workers with less expensive and less adversarial avenue of seeking redress in cases where the worker may have been treated unjustly and harshly by their employers.
“This will be accomplished without interfering with the freedom of these workers and their employers or prospective employers to negotiate the terms of the employment contract,” he noted.
The Labour Minister also informed that workers will be able to access the IDT for guidance as to the application, interpretation or violation of established agreements contained in employment contracts, and all statutory rights contained in employment provisions.
“In addition, these workers will now be able to access the important protection from unjustifiable dismissal which is only accessible through the IDT,” Mr. Charles said.