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Minister: Still too many workplace accidents
While there has been a decline in the number of reported workplace accidents, Labour Minister Errol McLeod says the figures are still too high. He expressed the hope on Tuesday that reinforced action by the ministry, with support from employers, workers and other interests, would improve the situation and make the country’s workplaces safer. “Let me categorically state that one injury is one too many and one fatality is one too many,” he said. “Although we have seen a decline in the number of occupational accidents from 1,065 in 2008 to 933 in 2009, the numbers are too high.” McLeod made that declaration in his feature address at the launch of a tripartite stakeholders’ consultation to repeal and replace the Workmen’s Compensation Act at the Hyatt Regency in Port-of-Spain.
He said 12 people lost their lives in the course of earning a living in 2009. “Compensation of workers and their families for accidents, injuries, deaths or occupational diseases poses an additional cost to employers and the social security system which can extend into millions of dollars,” McLeod said. “It therefore makes good economic sense for us to invest in preventative measures rather than to bear the liabilities which arise from a lack of such measures.” He said the discussions would assist in framing a realistic and effective labour agenda to be pursued over the next five years. The minister told the gathering the Workmen’s Compensation Act was outdated and contained many shortcomings. “To begin with, the reference to “workman” is not in keeping with our modern industrial relations terminology and is clearly inconsistent with gender sensitive language,” he said. “Additionally, the definition of a “workman” is limited and the majority of the active working population of Trinidad and Tobago is not covered by it.”
At present, medical expenses for injury is limited to $500 and a worker who becomes permanently disabled only receives a benefit up to 48 months. In the case of a fatality, benefits are paid only for 36 months. McLeod said repeal and replacement of the Workmen’s Compensation Act is a step in a progressive direction. He urged participants in the consultation to consider the implications of not changing to a new system. “There must be equity and substance in the benefits to the employee and to the family in the case of death,” he said. The consultation included a presentation by attorney-at-law Clive Pegus which laid the foundation for a more in-depth understanding of ways to move forward with the legislation.
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