A probe by the Occupational Safety and Health Authority (OSHA) Agency into the Paria Fuel diving tragedy could be in jeopardy following the resignation of its Chief Inspector and 13 others.
These concerns were raised by Bankers, Insurance General Workers Trade Union (BIGWU) labour relations officer Wesley Francis, who yesterday said political interference is affecting the independence of the agency.
Francis said over the past 15 months, 14 inspectors in all had resigned.
“I am forced to agree that OSHA should now be referred to as “HUSH,” as apparently the entity has become a political football, as these deficiencies continue to affect their ability to adequately discharge and deliver their mandate to the public of T&T, from inception to present,” Francis said.
He added: “The Government, being the largest employer, has been a major offender as it relates to OSHA breaches, and it has been the experience of inspectors over the years to be “stifled,” where the prosecution of state agencies and organisations, as well as “big-time companies,” are concerned, thereby undermining the very people the agency is charged to protect … the working class.”
Concerning the Paria probe, Francis said the investigation could now be compromised.
“It is clear that OSHA needs a complete overhaul if it is to properly discharge its mandate to respect the safety, health and welfare of persons at work, consistent with the Health and Safety at Work Act (HASAWA) of the United Kingdom, of which our legislation has sought to mirror,” he said.
He added, “Given the issues, we have seen the resignation of 14 inspectors in 15 months, including the chief inspector assigned to the Paria accident. We have no doubt that in his absence, the investigation can now be compromised. The agency needs a complete overhaul,” Francis said.
He noted that while many OSH matters against state entities have found their way into the Industrial Court, the ability of the agency to properly prosecute these matters has been frustrated by the exodus of inspectors.
“As a result, we are sure to see a reduction of OSH Offences being reported as a result of what has been taking place.”
He said the agency falls under the Ministry of Labour. Among the issues highlighted was the failure to submit proposals on major items for a first collective agreement for the period January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2020, including wages and regularisation of contract employment.
“This matter is presently before the Industrial Court,” he said.
He added that the union is also opposed to the unilateral introduction of a draconian retirement policy, which is mute where inspectors continue to be employed on contract. He said the policy is used to create the non-renewal of an inspector’s contract, causing the union to successfully challenge that matter in the Industrial Court.
“The unfair and unreasonable introduction of a ‘Hotline Duty’ to inspectors, a duty that does not exist anywhere in their job description, but where the agency resists the recruitment of Hotline Operators, a job position for which a job description exists, as well as the unilateral alteration of three-year fixed-term contracts, to three-month temporary contracts, without any discussion with the RMU, resulting in the forfeiture of sick leave, vacation leave and gratuity,” Francis said.
“These issues have certainly combined to cause the frustration of OSH Inspectors, causing them to leave in drones.”
Meanwhile, Prakash Ramadhar, the attorney representing the families of three of the divers who died in the tragedy in February, said he was concerned about the resignations of the inspectors and the impact on the Paria probe.
“If there is any pressure on any inspector or senior manager of OSHA that is worrisome, because the inspectors are supposed to say whether there are breaches or not,” Ramadhar said.
He added, “It is more than troubling and I expect a full disclosure is more than needed in light of so many resignations. I am also hearing senior staff is put on a month-to-month contract? Why is that? The independence of OSHA is crucial to the safety of all of T&T.”
On February 25, divers Kazim Ali Jr, Yusuf Henry, Rishi Nagassar and Fyzal Kurban were killed after they were sucked into a 30-inch pipeline on Berth 6 of Paria’s offshore facility at Pointe-a-Pierre.
Another diver, Christopher Boodram, survived the tragedy.
Efforts to contact Labour Minister Stephen Mc Clashie for comment proved unsuccessful, as calls and messages to his cell phone went unanswered.