STATEMENT BY HONOURABLE VINCENT WHEATLEY
MINISTER FOR NATURAL RESOURCES, LABOUR & IMMIGRATION
NINTH SITTING OF THE THIRD SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
THURSDAY, 12TH AUGUST, 2021
DEPARTMENT OF LABOUR AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT PROCESSES AND PROCEDURES - KEEPING OUR WORKFORCE INFORMED
Mister Speaker, I open with this quote by Lewis Carrol, “If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there”. The overall aim of the Department of Labour and Workforce Development’s is to promote good Labour Management practices at workplaces, to ensure that stable and harmonious labour relations exist between employers and employees and to protect the rights, wages, working conditions, safety, health and welfare of workers through workforce development initiatives and the enforcement of the Labour Code 2010 which is the Road Map we use to ensure that our vision is realised.
Mister Speaker, in recent months, due to the effects of the global pandemic, the department’s services have been affected in several areas, two of which are Labour Relations or Disputes and Labour Protection as it pertains to the health, safety and welfare of our employees. Mister Speaker, today I will speak on these two (2) areas as a means of keeping our Virgin Islands Workforce informed relative to the department’s processes and procedures in fulfilling its mandate through the Labour Code 2010.
Firstly, in the area of Labour Relations, many disputes and inquiries are lodged at the department. Through the mediation process, many of these cases are settled due to the hard work of the two (2) Labour Relations Officers assigned to the unit. These two (2) officers shoulder the responsibility of dealing with all the disputes regularly lodged by mostly employees, and at times, a few employers, throughout the Territory of the Virgin Islands. With limited resources, I can attest that these officers perform this service with much veracity.
Mister Speaker, recently it was brought to my attention that persons refused to attend scheduled mediation sessions. This should not be, as it is outlined in Section 14 (c) that an inspector may interview alone or in the presence of witnesses, the employer or any person in or at a workplace on any matter concerning the application of the requirements of the law relating to labour.
As such, I cite Section 21 of the Code which states that a person who willfully hinders or obstructs the Commissioner or an inspector in the exercise of the powers and duties conferred on him or her by the code, commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars.
Mister Speaker, the plan is to enforce this penalty as we cannot be like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland believing that there is no established path that can be pursued to ensure that the mandate of the department is being developed and fulfilled. Through the code, the department’s vision in this regard has been made plain. We must therefore start enforcing the code to achieve desired results. In fulfilment of our mandate, we also plan to embrace monthly territory-wide initiatives as a means of improving not only work permit holders but also employers and employees knowledge of the code through visiting offices and holding online sessions.
Mister Speaker, labour inspections are conducted regularly, with special emphasis on new companies particularly, those with recent work permit submissions or businesses that may have been in operation for a few years but an inspection has never taken place or where there is reasonable cause, as noted in Section 14 (a). As mentioned in Section 16 of the Code, inspections can also be conducted on private premises during the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. for persons desirous of hiring domestic workers or caretakers as a means of ensuring that the requested work is valid. Although most visits are scheduled, an inspector has the right to make unexpected visits.
Mister Speaker, while on a site visit an inspector is to ensure that the trade license of the employer is noticeable. The trade license must reflect the job functions of the employment, and the inspector can request employment contracts, particularly from employers in the construction industry, ask for copies of pension plans, ensure that there is adequate supply of drinking water and restroom facilities at all business locations, while ensuring that the work environment is safe and has the requisite fire extinguisher and first aid kit.
Mister Speaker, ideally organisations should be inspected on a yearly basis. Unfortunately, this is an insurmountable task as presently there is only one (1) officer assigned on Tortola and another one (1) on Virgin Gorda office. Once inspections attached to work permit applications are completed, a report outlining the findings is submitted to the relevant processing officer for the Commissioner to decide about its approval or denial. Mister Speaker permits do get denied.
Mister Speaker, this Unit is also tasked with visiting construction sites to ensure that the proper gear and equipment are utilised as well as on site risk are eliminated or diminished. Soon, we plan to resume our health and safety campaign. Additionally, the Labour Inspector as well as two (2) other staff members have been assigned to the social distancing task force to ensure that established protocol guidelines are adhered to at business establishments throughout the Territory.
Mister Speaker, recently, a Labour Relations Officer and a Labour Inspector commenced visiting the sister islands of Jost Van Dyke and Anegada to conduct inspections and to deal with dispute issues. Mister Speaker, I have mandated that these visits are done on a quarterly basis.
Finally, Mister Speaker, I make mention that a consultant has been engaged to modernise the Labour Code 2010 to address issues that may be encountered during times of disasters and pandemics. Mister Speaker, at this time we may not be able to change the direction of the wind, but we can indeed adjust our sails to reach our destination to ensure that employees and employers adhere to our mandated processes and procedures.
I thank you.