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However, the daily toll of accidents and industrial diseases of their members inevitably brought the subject of occupational safety and health into the sphere of union activity.
Initially, this involvement took the form of securing compensation for those workers crippled or maimed through their work. But gradually, a more positive preventative stance to the problem has been adopted, whereby unions have embarked on education and training programmes specifically in occupational safety and health for workers and their representatives.
Although worker’s organisation exists in all Caribbean countries, they too have concentrated their efforts on other fundamental areas of trade union activity. However, thus far, the extent to which they have become involved in the education and training of workers in occupational safety and health has been limited. It must be stressed that education and training in occupational safety and health are essential prerequisites in order for workers and their representatives to participate effectively in the decisions that affect their lives and the lives of their families.
Workers educational programmes are not new in Guyana. They have been developed over a number years to assist trade unions and workers education bodies to develop their own educational activities. Such programmes allow workers and their representatives to improve their knowledge of a whole range of social, economic and labour issues, thus enabling them to fulfill the functions of responsible trade unionist.
Workers’ education is also essential in order for workers and their representatives to play an increasingly effective role in the social and economic development of their countries. The common theme of workers education programmes is to help workers to help themselves become better trade unionists and so contribute to the development of society as a whole.
The Guyana Trades Union Congress being the umbrella body in Guyana has the following roles as it relates to occupational safety and health.
1. Trade unions must be integrally involved in the formulation and implementation of safety and health programmes in the workplace as they relate to their membership.
2. They are responsible for ensuring that their membership understand and comply with the safety and health policy of their respective organisation.
3. Have a clear policy on safety and health at work and determine its place in union work.
4. Establish safety and health committees at local and national levels. There should also be union representation on the workplace safety and health committee.
5. Develop educational programmes in safety and health at work for their membership.
6. Be informed by the regulatory authority of the observations and recommendations with respect to workplace inspections and accident investigations as may be necessary.
7. Be involved in the planning stages when alterations or changes of work processes are proposed.
8. Have reasonable amount of freedom of movement in the workplace and discuss with workers, health and safety matters during working hours in the workplace.
9. Develop a comprehensive and responsible `advocacy role’ relative to workplace safety and health.