LABOUR DEPT. SITE VISITS TO INCREASE MORE THAN SIX-FOLD, AN INDICATION THAT PROTECTING WORKERS’ RIGHTS IS A TOP PRIORITY FOR GOVERNMENT

BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, JANUARY 30TH, 2017 (PRESS SEC) — Labour Department officials will increase their scheduled workplace site visits by more than six-fold in 2017, according to Ms. Shernel James, the Acting Labour Commissioner. This dramatic ramping up of inspections is just one indication that the Team Unity Government remains committed to protecting workers’ rights.

The Labour Department will continue to conduct unannounced workplace site visits at its discretion.

The Acting Labour Commissioner said that last year the Labour Department conducted a lot of OSH [occupational safety and health] inspections, mainly at new businesses. Ms. James added that in 2017, “We are concentrating more on social inspections to ensure that workers’ terms and conditions of work are in accordance with the law.”

Ms. James explained the two types of inspections. “A social inspection looks after the terms and conditions of work: your wages, your hours of work, working time, issues of payment…it looks at whether or not you are getting fringe benefits, as well as at your remuneration, in terms of holiday pay; all of these things come under a social inspection,” Ms. James said.

The Acting Labour Commissioner continued: “An occupational safety and health inspection looks at the safety and the health of the worker. This one is more physical: we do a walk through… we look at exit signs to see if they are clearly marked, we look at the state of the bathrooms to determine if they are in a sanitary condition, we look at whether or not there are sufficient fire extinguishers per square footage, if there are wet floor signs, etc.”

Ms. James also said that, “The law mandates us to speak with both employers and employees, and after speaking with them we determine whether or not there is a synergy [if what each of them says lines up with the other’s account(s)]. If there are any infractions, the employers are given six weeks in which to redress them. After six weeks, if we find during our follow-up that the employers failed to carry out our recommendations, the Labour Department can proceed to penalize them in accordance with the law either by a summary conviction or a fine.”

During his first Budget presentation as Senior Minister and Minister of Labour et al. in the Team Unity administration, Premier of Nevis the Honourable Vance Amory said on Wednesday, December 16th, 2015 that the hiring of undocumented workers in St. Kitts and Nevis was cause for concern. In accordance with Section 19 of the Immigration Act, Cap 6.02 of the Laws of Saint Christopher and Nevis, Revised Edition as at 31 December 2009, it is an offence to employ a person who does not have legal status in the Federation without having obtained a work permit.

According to Section 32 of the Act, any person who is found guilty of an offence under this Act is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine of up to $10,000.00 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding twelve months or both.

Employers are to pay work permit fees within 10 working days of receiving the approval for work permit. Moreover, requests for renewal of work permits should be submitted to the Secretariat of the Ministry of National Security along with copies of the employer’s Social Security contributions for the employee, which must be up-to-date.

In July 2015, the Team Unity Government announced that an amnesty would be offered to undocumented CARICOM Nationals. The amnesty enabled them to regularize their status regarding outstanding payments for work permits and residency. “All applicants should have no criminal record,” the offer stated, noting that, “Under the amnesty, outstanding payments for years prior to 2015 will be waived…Any applications submitted after the 16 October 2015 deadline would require the settlement of all outstanding fees.”

The July 18th to October 16th, 2015 amnesty period resulted in 34 persons regularizing their status.

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