Health and Safety & The Rule of Law

First Published: 2000-09-25

The proposed Health and Safety at Work Act of May 2000 is intended to secure the health and safety of workers in the workplace. Such an objective seems on the surface to be as correct for the Bahamas as are boiled fish for breakfast and peas and rice for supper. However, this is not quite so since there is a short-term lower cost alternative.

The Act.

The Act will allow the Minister of Labour to appoint a safety representative from a company-s employees and will require the employer to consult with that employee on matters of health and safety. Furthermore, it provides for an Inspector Corps with a complete array of powers plus the ability to issue “Improvement” and “Prohibition” notices under penalty of “summary conviction to a fine of five thousand dollars.”

These provisions must be evaluated as they stand and also within the context of certain realities.

  1. The new bureaucracy will write and enforce detailed standards on how business is conducted. This is costly and complex and comes at a time when the more advanced countries of the world are beginning to appreciate the cost of these regulations. Furthermore, it will diminish the competitive position of the Bahamas in the Global Economy.

  2. The Act fosters a needless growth of expenditures at a time when the government appears to be bringing the budget into fiscal balance.

  3. There is no reason to believe that the administration of health and safety will be effective. There is an overwhelming lack of managerial and technical skills in the country. In addition, the Government has great difficulty in managing efficiently since politics dominates all decisions rather than business or economic considerations.

  4. Private business has a natural self-interest in the health and safety of its employees. A good example of the responsiveness of business to the reality of the workplace is in the area of on-the-job training. A recent Bahamian business survey shows that on-job-training expenditures have risen over 70% during the past 5-years without government intervention of any kind.

  5. Such legislation creates corruption opportunities. In practice the proliferation of laws and regulations results in an inevitable growth in “rent taking” by public officials. In countries as India, Italy and Venezuela, for instance, the record is very clear… excessive laws and regulations corrupt the governmental function and ultimately produce economic stagnation and political instability.

The rule of law.

At this stage in its economic development the Bahamas would be better served by a major reform of the justice system. Such reform must include major investments in staff, facilities, procedures and caseload management. In the workplace such a reform program would give workers a genuine opportunity to sue for damages suffered as a result of any health and safety deficiencies in the workplace.

One of the truly valuable contributions of economists over the past fifty years has been research on sustained economic growth. Virtually all studies identify an efficient and impartial justice system… the rule of law… as one of the critical elements that sustains economic growth.

In fact, an inefficient politicized justice system is a hallmark of a “third world banana republic” and the blacklisting crisis that the country now faces is the direct result of its existence in the Bahamas. In this case the legal system frustrated and blocked legitimate proceedings under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with the U. S. causing the strong U.S. initiative.

For the economic health of the Bahamas the Health and Safety at Work Act should be quietly withdrawn… and… the FNM Government should make the strategic decision to focus its resources on developing a modern efficient impartial legal system. This would naturally complement the development of a “world class” law school and secure the country-s position in the world as a good place to do business.

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