Fellow Citizens and Residents of St. Kitts & Nevis:
Today, April 28, 2021, St. Kitts and Nevis joins the rest of the global community in observing World Day for Safety and Health at Work. For this year’s observance, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has chosen the theme: “Anticipate, Prepare & Respond to Crises: Invest Now in Resilient Occupational Safety & Health (OSH) Systems”. The ILO’s choice of the theme is deliberate, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic which is, without question, the single, most catastrophic crisis to affect our world in the past 100 years, in terms of health, labour markets and economies, and employment.
I wish to take some time to briefly address what the Department of Labour believes is the core message which the ILO wishes to convey via the 2021 observance of World Day for Safety and Health at
Work. Essentially, the ILO intends for all Member States to do the following:
- Acknowledge the colossal impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had – and continues to have – on the world of work and the promotion and preservation of decent work for all.
- Use the Covid-19 pandemic as a major learning experience through which our Government, employers and workers’ representatives can better plan and prepare for crises and catastrophes that impact the workplace and employment.
- Recognise that one of the best ways of planning and preparing for crises and emergencies is to properly invest in occupational safety and health systems that can withstand the impact of such challenges on workplaces and livelihoods.
- Critically examine our existing occupational safety and health infrastructure with a view to improving or revamping same through policy, legislation and regulations that guarantee safety in the workplace; promote productivity, performance and national competitiveness; protects the health and well- being of all workers; and preserve jobs as far as possible.
- Actively promote and practice constructive social dialogue in order to build trust, advance tripartism and appropriately respond to crises and emergencies that impact upon occupational safety and health in our Country.
- Invest in targeted information, advisory services and training of social partner stakeholders in occupational safety and health principles and practices, particularly among micro, small and medium–sized enterprises (MSMEs).
On the occasion of World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2021 I would be seriously at fault if I did not point out some of the key ways in which Covid-19 has impacted the world of work, employment, and workers’ health and safety in general. In its 2021 Report on the World Day for Safety and Health at Work the ILO was careful to note the following facts:
- Up to 20-30% of Covid cases can be attributed to exposure to the virus in the workplace, in some countries;
- Closed and confined work places make the odds of transmitting Covid-19 some 18.7 times greater, compared to open air environments in which work is conducted;
- There are some 136 million workers in the health and social services sectors who are at serious risk of contracting Covid-19 in the workplace;
- Globally, the deaths of some 7,000 healthcare workers’ may
have been caused by Covid-19;
- Covid-19 has infected over 570,000 healthcare workers in the Americas region while claiming the lives of some 2,500 of their colleagues;
- Some 14% of all global infections of Covid-19 have occurred among healthcare workers;
- 20% of healthcare workers globally have reported symptoms of anxiety and depression during the pandemic, largely as a result of the stressful situations at work brought about by the pandemic;
In the same Report, the ILO also addressed on the various measures being practiced around the world in order to prevent the spread of the virus in the workplace while providing workers with increased flexibility, and preserving jobs and business continuity. Ironically however, some of these very measures present their own set of health and safety challenges for many workers – chief among them being the practice of telecommuting or teleworking. The ILO notes that such “work from home” options are often associated with serious risks which cannot be ignored, some of which our own Department of Labour has observed in our local workplaces. Among these are ergonomic and psychosocial risks which manifest in the following ways:
- Musculoskeletal disorders due to sitting in stationary positions at computers for extended periods of time while working – which can result in back problems, swollen feet and poor circulation, etc.;
- Over-scheduling of virtual meetings which leave little or no breaks in between, thereby creating mental strain, etc.;
- The development of what the ILO refers to as “presenteeism”, whereby there is a blurring of the lines between work and private life of employees;
- Distraction created by the responsibility of caring for children or parents while working from home;
- Social isolation that can be created from not being in the office, which can impact on professional development;
- Domestic violence victims being at increased risk of attacks due to such workers being confined at home with their abusers during lockdowns: in a number of countries the incidence of such domestic violence has quintupled1;
The Department of Labour has chosen to observe World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2021 via a number of activities spread out over the course of several days. As such, the calendar of events includes the following:
Saturday, April 24th:
- Health Walk from the Department of Labour at Buckley’s Site
to the third roundabout in Frigate Bay
Sunday, April 25th:
- Church Service at Calvary Baptist Church in Sandy Point
Wednesday, April 28th:
- National Address by Hon. Wendy C. Phipps, Minister of Labour;
- Fire drill in the parking lot of the Department of Labour;
- Virtual Labour Market Training Exercise – facilitated by the ILO;
- Panel Discussion on ZIZ Television – based on the theme “Anticipate, Prepare and Respond to the Crisis: Invest Now in resilient OSH Systems.” The panel is being moderated by Attorney Ms Jihan Williams, with other panellists being Mr Andrew Satney of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce; Mr Larry Vaughan from the St. Kitts and Nevis Trades and Labour Union; Mr Newrish Nital of the National Drug Council; Ms Junique Eddy of the Department of Labour; Dr Akin Odontun of the Ministry of Health; and Mr Desroy Tate, Chairman of the Manufacturers’ Division of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce.
The management of the Department of Labour commends the social partners for actively participating in these events, particularly the Health Walk and Church Service which took place this past weekend. The Department is heartened by the partnership role being played by the workers and employers’ representatives in supporting the additional activities being staged in recognition of World Day for Safety and Health at Work. Special mention should also be made of the involvement of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC), whose staff and members continue to provide stellar leadership at the national level as we navigate our way through this unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic.
I cannot end this address without sincerely thanking the Labour Commissioner, Ms Shernel James and her staff for successfully staging the 2021 observance of World Day for Safety and Health at Work. This was a major undertaking, when one places in context the heavy work demands that have been placed on the staff of the Department of Labour over the past 9 months in the tedious processing of almost 3,000 severance payment claims as a result of the major economic impact and associated job losses created by the pandemic.
As Minister with responsibility for Labour I look forward to the continued support, partnership and collaboration with the requisite governmental agencies, and the social partners as our Country moves towards the strengthening of our Occupational Safety and Health infrastructure for the benefit of all workers in St. Kitts and Nevis. In so doing, we would be better prepared as a global partner and ILO Member State to Anticipate, Prepare & Respond to Crises by Investing Now in Resilient Occupational Safety & Health (OSH) Systems.
Thank you for listening.