Madam President, Senate Colleagues:
I wish to borrow a phrase from our Prime Minister The Most Honourable Dr. Hubert Minnis who in his recent national address to the nation on the Hurricane Dorian Restoration Efforts stated and I quote, “We are One Bahamas, One people, one nation! When any part of our Commonwealth is affected, we are all affected.”
I sincerely believe this statement to be true, that is why my Ministry has, over the last few months, worked aggressively to ensure that we continue to make life better for all Bahamians and residents of The Bahamas by following through with our mission to provide Decent Work while at the same time fostering good industrial harmony between Employees and Employers. We are continuing to promote high levels of employment, productivity, human rights, and the Decent Work Agenda in accordance with international standards.
I wish to take a few minutes to highlight some of the accomplishments of the Ministry of Labour which comprises The Department of Labour, The Bahamas Bureau of Standards and Quality, The Consumer Protection Commission, The Prices Commission, The Consumer Affairs Division, and The National Training Agency. I will also take a few minutes to appraise you of the wonderful joint project between the Government of The Bahamas and the IDB called The Skills for Current and Future Jobs Programme and then briefly on work of the National Tripartite Council.
I am happy to report that the Department of Labour Offices in Grand Bahama and Abaco are now operational after being temporarily closed due to significant damages received from Hurricane Dorian. The Grand Bahama Office re-opened on October 28th of last year and the Abaco Office re-opened on January 16th of this year. Residents of those communities can now once again enjoy the many services provided by the Department of Labour and the Consumer Affairs Division.
Public Employment Services
The Public Employment Services Unit (PES) of the Department of Labour has further enhanced its online platform to join job seekers with companies seeking to achieve their staffing/ employment goals.
The new platform allows companies to review resumes and they are also able to give feedback on perspective candidates.
Trade Disputes & Complaints
Madam President, the Department of Labour continues to focus its attention on providing an effective conciliation process whereby trade disputes are resolved in an efficient, effective, and timely manner. Madam President, in New Providence during 2019, 870 Trade Disputes were filed at the Department of Labour compared with 924 cases in 2018. 401 were resolved, 290 are pending, 63 withdrew and 116 were referred to the Industrial Tribunal.
In the Family Islands, there were a total of 278 Trade Disputes filed with the Department of Labour compared with 283 cases in 2018. 86 were resolved. 132 are pending. 8 withdrew and 52 were referred to the Industrial Tribunal.
In New Providence 1,771 Complaints were filed with the Department of Labour in 2019 compared with 1501 in 2018. Of these Complaints, 1,288 were resolved, 293 were referred, 27 withdrew and 163 are pending.
In the Family Islands a total of 718 Complaints were filed with the Department of Labour compared with 428 in 2018. 573 were resolved. 47 were referred. 2 withdrew and 96 are pending.
Madam President, this year myself and the team at the Ministry of Labour and the Department of Labour successfully intervened and brought to a successful conclusion a five year industrial agreement between the management of Morton Salt and the Bahamas Industrial Manufacturers and Allied Workers Union after being at a stalemate for several years. Madam President, it is our hope that our labour professionals at the Department of Labour will continue to intervene in long outstanding industrial matters in an effort to bring management and employees to the table and resolve outstanding industrial disputes and agreements.
It is our hope to foster an environment of industrial harmony in our country.
The Bahamas Bureau of Standards and Quality (BBSQ) is mandated by virtue of its Standards Act (2006) to promote effective and efficient standardization of all goods and services (manufactured or imported) in The Bahamas, through the formulation of and/or adoption of international or regional standards. This is necessary:
- to support sustainable development,
- to benefit and protect the health, safety and welfare of consumers and the environment,
- to facilitate domestic and international trade, and
- to further international cooperation.
The BBSQ is also mandated by its Weights and Measures Act (2006) to regulate all measurement activities that have a bearing on trade within the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
My Ministry continues to enhance the operations of the BBSQ so that it can continue to implement quality infrastructure services in standards, metrology and conformity assessment initiatives. My Ministry is currently enhancing its staffing complement with the proposed addition of a Senior HR Officer, Finance Officer, and additional Metrologists and technical officers. These efforts will put the BBSQ in a better position to carry out its mandate.
One major initiative that we started last year is the Private-Public partnership between my Ministry, The BBSQ and EAA Company Ltd of Japan. This Pre-Export Verification of Conformity (PVoC) programme ensures that ALL used vehicles being imported from Japan, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates are inspected and meet approved quality standards before being shipped to The Bahamas.
This PVoC programme has played a significant role in the detection and prevention of sub-standard used vehicles being imported into our country; and it has proven to be self-reliant for the Bureau of Standards. In other words Madam President, for every car inspected by EAA Company, the BBSQ receives $20.00 per vehicle from the inspection charge.
Our Government will no longer allow the practice of dumping non-roadworthy vehicles on our roads to endanger the lives of Bahamian road users.
Since the implementation of the PVoC programme in March 2019, we can report that a total of 11,691 used units have been pre-inspected as of February 2020, this averages approximately 1,000 units monthly.
Madam President the agreement between the Ministry of Labour, the BBSQ and the EAA Company Limited in Japan for the extension of this relationship will be signed in a matter of days. The new agreement was negotiated for a further three years and our contribution from inspection fees charged will increase from $20.00 to $40.00 per vehicle. We have also asked EAA to look at a similar vehicle inspection programme for vehicles coming from the United States into The Bahamas.
Madam President, I am happy to report that The Bahamas is second in the Caribbean next to Jamaica in leading the way with the introduction of such a PVoC programme.
Marketing, Communication and Awareness Campaign
Madam President, the BBSQ is continuing with its three year strategic agenda started in 2019 to provide a more heightened awareness and education campaigns aimed at enlightening the public on the overall role of BBSQ, and the important work it undertakes through its various activities.
We intend to continue to roll out infomercials, some are currently being aired on ZNS, Cable Bahamas, and ILTV TV stations, and on the radio. The BBSQ will continue bringing awareness through sensitization meetings, forums and through international observances such as World Standards Day, World Metrology Day, and World Accreditation Day.
Further, the BBSQ will also embark on developing its first promotional booklet, dedicated specifically for Primary School students. The Booklet hopes to bring awareness to the significance of standards and quality and how these affect our everyday lives.
Enhancing the Metrological capabilities in The Bahamas
In order to ensure accurate and reliable measurements for trade, health, safety, and the environment, the BBSQ has procured a forty (40) foot laboratory container to enhance its capabilities. The lab will provide Calibration services in mass and volume, weights and measurements, and in industrial metrology.
In keeping with the Government’s commitment to ensure the full protection of consumers throughout the length and breadth of The Bahamas, my Ministry and its various agencies: The Consumer Protection Commission (CPC), Prices Commission, and the Consumer Affairs Unit, have embarked on an aggressive educational campaign to inform consumers of their legal rights with respect to goods and services that they purchase or use.
The Consumer Protection Commission (CPC) has as its mandate “To empower consumers and spread awareness about consumer rights, consumer protection and regulations towards building a well-informed community of discerning consumers.” The mission is aimed at protecting consumers from fraudulent business practices as well as equipping consumers with relevant, up-to-date and accurate information about their rights in a dynamic market environment.
During this past year the CPC has held campaigns and programmes to educate the public on how to file complaints. The Board and Staff of CPC took to the streets distributing brochures and pamphlets at various roundabouts and intersections. CPC also participated in two trade exhibitions, which also expanded its outreach to educate the consumers.
In January 2020, CPC held a very successful One-Day Consumer Symposium under the theme: ‘Consumers, Do you Know Your Rights?’ This symposium brought together all of the Consumer agencies under the Ministry of Labour – Bahamas Bureau of Standards and Quality (BBSQ); and Prices Commission and Consumer Affairs Unit. It also included panelists from Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) and the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA). CPC intends to follow up with a second symposium in May 2020 and many more.
Going forward CPC, BBSQ and Prices Commission will continue the campaign to educate consumers in the Family Islands with particular emphasis in the near term on visits to Grand Bahama, Exuma, Abaco and Bimini.
World Consumer Day
The CPC, in partnership with its sister agencies Bahamas Bureau of Standards and Quality (BBSQ), Prices Commission and Consumer Affairs, will once again come together to spearhead and coordinate activities to commemorate World Consumer Rights Day 2020 in The Bahamas. Consumers International has announced that the theme for World Consumer Rights Day 2020, to be held in March 2020, will be ‘The Sustainable Consumer’. The campaign will discuss the need for sustainable consumption globally, as well as highlight the important role that consumer rights and protection can play. Our agencies will be incorporating this theme in the activities being organized.
THE PRICES COMMISSION
During the year 2019, there have been numerous cases in New Providence and the Family Islands of merchants committing price infractions on the breadbasket list of food items. These cases are considered to be serious breaches of the Price Control Act and the Prices Commission is actively pursuing these matters in conjunction with the relevant law enforcement authorities. The Prices Commission has also beefed up its presence in the Family Island and will be conducting surprise visits on various islands. The Bahamian public can rest assured that the Prices Commission is fully committed to protecting the consumers’ wellbeing.
CONSUMER AFFAIRS UNIT
I wish to commend the hardworking and dedicated staff of the Consumer Affairs Unit which principal mandate is to police the entire Bahamian marketplace to ensure that the Price Control Act/Regulations are being complied with and consumers are receiving the protection intended by law.
Officers are also charged with the responsibility of serving as agents for the Consumer Protection Commission to ensure that consumers who may experience challenges with the providers of goods and services can find redress at the Commission.
Over the past year the Consumer Affairs Unit has been very active in educating consumers of their rights and responsibilities and will continue to do so in the ensuing months.
I would like to point out that due to Hurricane Dorian the Consumer Affairs Office in Grand Bahama was totally destroyed by flood waters. To date the office space has been totally renovated.
In Abaco, two Officers from the Abaco office were reassigned to Nassau after the hurricane. Since the office has been repaired, there is a presence not back in Abaco. It is anticipated that two Price Inspectors and a Filing Assistant will be engaged shortly.
The Consumer Affairs Unit in Bimini will be relocated to the new Government complex and it is anticipated that two individuals will be engaged.
The National Training Agency (NTA) is charged with the responsibility of workforce development with a keen focus on training our nation’s youth, those between the ages of 16-30 who are unemployed and currently unprepared for the workforce, to take advantage of existing and emerging job opportunities.
Over the last year the NTA continued to positively impact the lives of young Bahamians, providing them with certifications and assisting them with fulltime employment. The Agency has expanded its reach and has been strategic in offering training opportunities that meet the needs of today’s workforce. These expansions include greater collaboration with industry leaders and job providers, improved relationships with the target audience in the inner cities, improvements in its core offerings, assessments and delivery systems, and an overall improvement in the use of modern technology.
Specific results over the last year are as follows:
- 532 young Bahamians trained in Soft Skills, workforce preparedness and certified in various skills including Food and Beverage, Butler Services, Information Technology, Web Designs, Microsoft Office, Allied Health Care, Housekeeping and Dive & Fishing Level 1.
- Overall job placement rate of 52% of individuals trained.
- Expanded the list of qualified NTA Assessors and Tutors by 18. All of whom are City and Guilds Certified.
- Launched the NTA Online Training Platform, Brightspace, that has the capability of training Bahamians throughout the Family of Islands.
- Expanded the list of Approved City and Guilds qualifications offered at the NTA by 4.
- Reduced overall dependence on Government funding by 40% due to revenue generation initiatives.
- Expanded the list of approved training providers by 2
- Assisted with the recruitment of more than 150 Bahamians for full time employment with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and MSC.
- Successfully certified 6 Bahamians in Leadership and team skills at the NTA Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM).
- Partnered with the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Science in offering the 1st cohort of training in Dive and Fishing Level 1. 28 young Bahamians, male and females obtained PADI certifications- (Open Water, Advanced Open Water and Rescue). Madam President,
As you are aware the National Tripartite Council was formally enacted into statute on March 3, 2015 and was established to serve as a forum for labour and industrial relations in The Bahamas.
The Council, Madam President has done significant work over the past year including, but not limited to:
- Recommendation to enact National Productivity Legislation and the establishment of a National Productivity Council.
- Recommendations to facilitate transferring of the functions of The Bahamas Industrial Tribunal to the Civil Division of the Supreme Court.
- Final Report and recommendations on the National Child Labour Policy.
- Recommendation to a process to facilitate the creation of the Bahamas’ Second Generation Decent Work Country Programme with the ILO to provide one hundred and seventy thousand dollars ($170,000.00) in Technical Assistance.
- In February 2020 the Council formally began the process to review the possibility of increasing the National Minimum Wage.
The Skills for Current & Future Job Programme is a joint project between the Government of the Bahamas and the Inter-American Development Bank and is designed to reduce unemployment by increasing and improving the access to quality jobs.
The primary objective of the Programme is to increase employability and quality of employment to beneficiaries by improving access to quality jobs in The Bahamas, especially for youth. The Programme has the following specific Components and objectives:
- Component 1 – Increase relevant skills, employability and productivity of participants through Apprenticeships,
- Component 2 – Improve the effectiveness of the Public Employment Services, and
- Component 3 – Enhance the capacity of the labour market’s intelligence, monitoring and evaluation systems with software investment.
The programme, which is a major component of the Government’s Plan to improve the standard of living and quality of life for Bahamian citizens, is being managed by a Steering Committee and the Ministry of Labour is the leading government agency responsible for the implementation of the Programme.
As I close, I wish to commend my dedicated and hard-working team at the Ministry of Labour headed by Mr. Reginald Saunders, Permanent Secretary (Acting), Senior Undersecretary William Pratt, and Deputy Permanent Secretary (Acting) Mr. Ricardo Deveaux and our Executive Manager Mr. Robert Farquharson. I also wish to commend the hard-working management and staff at the Department of Labour, led by Director (Acting) Mr. John Pinder, the National Training Agency, led by Mr. Gadville McDonald, The Bahamas Bureau of Standards and Quality, led by Dr. Renae Ferguson-Bufford, The Prices Commission, The Consumer Protection Commission, and the Consumer Affairs Division.
I also wish to thank the respective boards and committees for the tireless work that they do to ensure that the Bahamian interest are served.