More manpower and resources are needed if the Labour Department is to adequately crack down on companies that persist in having their workers operate in conditions that jeopardize their health and safety, says Minister of Labour Colin Jordan.
This morning Jordan made the revelation while on a walkthrough of stores on Swan Street and Tudor Street.
His comments come just days after the Liquidation Centre was condemned by health and fire officials as a safety hazard, giving rise to calls for an investigation as to whether the workers at the Bay Street store, which was compulsorily acquired by Government last month, were subjected to these conditions. When asked this morning if such alleged egregious violations could have escaped the checks and balances for any extended period, Jordan pointed to the limitations of staffing.
“I tend to be a person who is always forward focused and one of the reasons that I am coming out myself is because there are always gaps. We have a particular problem of manpower and how we distribute manpower. In my first year on this job I would have said to the Chief Labour Officer that more officers should be on the road, but in discussion with him I had the reality check that when workers call the office they need to speak to someone. If the officers are on the road they can’t also be in the department as well,” said Jordan, noting that due to the vast number of private and public businesses, some may slip through the cracks.
He added, “We hear from people in all kinds of areas from time to time, but resources are the issue in terms of going out to make those assessments and interventions. Some persons may ask ‘how come when something comes up Government can suddenly find persons to send?’ This is a disingenuous comment because whenever there is an emergency you always pull resources from wherever to address the emergency. However, I can assure you that we would be a bit more methodical as we approach inspections going forward.”
The Minister promised that his officers will be ramping up site visits in the future as well as keeping their ears to the ground for complaints of poor working conditions, which may not always come through the official channels.
“In terms of moving forward, we are going to continue these kinds of visits as a ministry. We also have to become sensitive to the areas that can be considered hot spots and by this I don’t mean information that we get through official channels, but rather noise that we may get in the atmosphere. Our intention is to do more visits in the areas where people bring things to our attention and strengthen our inspection process,” he said.
Jordan further revealed that as Government heads into the Estimates phase, the hiring of more officers was likely to be factored into his ministry’s request for finances in the new financial year.
“We are heading into the Estimates process and this is going to be completed early next year and these kinds of matters would be factored into how we compile the Estimates while understanding that there is not a lot of financial resources to create the perfect environment. We are not looking for perfection but we are going to do what we can, realizing that there may be gaps but we do our best to cover our bases,” he stressed.
Earlier this week, Attorney General Dale Marshall declared that Liquidation Centre, which was owned by the Mirchandani Group of Companies, was a vermin-infested former warehouse/store that no fewer than four Government agencies have condemned as a fire hazard and a serious threat to human health. According to the Ministry of Health’s report, obtained by Barbados TODAY, heavy mould and musty odour forced environmental health officials to use personal protective equipment including masks as they entered the building.
Inadequate ventilation, heavy residues of dust on all of the items in the building, adult mosquitoes and evidence of rodent infestation were among other findings. The environmental health officials also reported that the conditions were conducive to harbouring disease and vectors such as rodents and mosquitoes.
The inspectors also told the Government they found evidence of improper storage practices which would prevent adequate cleaning and maintenance of the Liquidation Centre due to congestion.