US Human Rights report cites weak enforcement of occupational safety law
The US State Department’s 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices has highlighted the absence of labour clauses in public contract agreements, inadequate enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) law by the government and reports of violations regarding wages and overtime payment in the oil and gas, mining, and logging sectors.
The report pointed out that OSH standards are not appropriate for the main industries and many workers jeopardise their employment if they chose to remove themselves from unsafe work environments. This occurs despite workers being protected by the law.
“Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud or negligence, and were infrequently imposed. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections but not to initiate sanctions. Labour inspections carried out during the year targeted all sectors, including agriculture, mining and construction. Ministry follow-up of labour inspection findings varied and compliance among employers was also inconsistent,” the report highlighted.
The report further noted that the number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law effectively. The report stated that the government is heavily criticized by trade unions for delays and failure to act on wage and hour violations perpetrated by companies in the private sector and particularly in foreign-owned firms.
“In a number of hinterland mining areas, miners reported they never saw labour inspectors. Local trade unions and NGOs reported that the Ministry of Labour did not enforce occupational safety and health laws adequately.” According to the report, government reported 193 workplace accidents, 98 of which were investigated. There were 11 fatal workplace accidents reported as of September 2022.
Another issue highlighted in the report was the unions’ plight in engaging in negotiations with government for better working conditions and wages and salary scales.
“Some public-sector employee unions continued to allege anti-union discrimination by the government, asserting the government violated worker rights and did not effectively enforce the law. The unions were concerned that employers used hiring practices such as contract labour and temporary labour to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights,” the report said. The report pointed out the case where the National Mines Workers Union of Guyana advocated on behalf of oil and gas workers to raise complaints with the Ministry of Labour that Guyanese citizens received less favourable contracts and lower pay than Trinidadian nationals.
The report also alighted on the Guyana Public Service Union’s claims of political interference in the union and government attempts to pressure some members to leave the union. In July, the union filed suit against the government, the country’s largest employer, for failing to participate in required collective bargaining on public-servant wages, salaries, and allowances despite repeated requests since 2020. The report shed further light on discrimination in employment and occupation. This, it stated, occurred with respect to women and to persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and workplace access was limited for persons with disabilities. Newspapers, it highlighted, frequently carried advertisements seeking gender-specific or age-specific applicants to fill positions in the retail, cosmetology, or security sectors, all factors that contribute to discrimination in the work place.
The US labour report stressed that unorganized workers, particularly women in the informal sector are often discriminated against. In many instances they are paid less than the minimum wage. In the Informal-sector, laws relating to wages and OSH are rarely enforced, even though workers are covered under the labour regulations. Additionally, the 2022 report stated “country experts reported that forced and compulsory labour occurred in the gold mining, agriculture, and forestry sectors, as well as in domestic servitude. Children were particularly vulnerable to human trafficking, including forced labour.” The report further pointed out that although the law provides women the same legal status and rights as men, gender-related discrimination was widespread and deeply ingrained.
“The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, but there was no meaningful enforcement against such discrimination in the workplace. Job vacancy notices routinely specified that the employer sought only male or only female applicants, and women earned approximately 58 percent less than men for equal work,” it stated.