Migrant workers move food staple sacks. Dhauru Photo/Abdullah Iyaan

Parliament accepts bill allowing heavy fines for workplace safety negligence

The bill totaling 77 pages has been sent to the social committee for review.

15 March 2023

By Mohamed Muzayyin Nazim

Parliament on Tuesday accepted a bill seeking heavy penalties for negligence in ensuring safety and security of labourers and availing court orders to inspectors to search the sites and sent to a committee for scrutiny.

The Workplace Safety and Health Security Bill was introduced in parliament in November. The preliminary debate on the bill was concluded in Tuesday's parliament session and was adopted by 57 votes.

On behalf of the government, the bill was introduced in the parliament by Baarah MP Ahmed Abdulla. The purpose of introducing the bill is as follows:

  • Develop basic rules to ensure that the workplace is safe for workers and others involved in it

  • Develop policies to protect against workplace bullying and potential hazards and harms from that environment

  • Develop a system that allows workers to have a say in the decision-making and problem-solving issues related to workers' safety

  • Develop a system where workplace violence and damage can be reported, cases can be investigated/compensated

Most of the members who debated the bill said in the preliminary debate that it was too late to enact such a law and it should be completed as soon as possible. Some members also advocated that more bills should be completed at the committee level.

The bill totaling 77 pages has been sent to the social committee for review.

According to the bill, health and safety inspectors of the authority appointed for the purpose will be responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of the work environment mentioned in the act. The bill seeks to give greater powers to these inspectors. Here are some of the powers that will be granted these inspectors:

  • The power to search any place of work or place believed to be part of such work at an appropriate time; including searching of documents and taking copies of the documents

  • If the owner does not allow the search, the search can be carried out after obtaining a court order

  • Power to interrogate and investigate the employed persons and the employer

If the labourers and employers do not interfere and cooperate with the efforts of the inspectors, considering the size of it, a fine ranging between MVR 10,000 and MVR 25,000 will be imposed, the bill says.

Special director general for enforcement

The director specially appointed will be responsible for implementing the requirements laid down in the law to ensure the safety and health of the workplace. The post will be called Director General for Workplace Safety and Health. The conditions for being the Director General are:

  • Being a citizen of Maldives

  • Not being a member of any political party

  • Not to hold an elected post/any other post by the State

  • Master's Degree in relevant discipline with qualifications and having at least five years of experience

  • Proved to have committed no offence of bribe/fraud

Within a month of the act coming into force, the tenure of the post, which is appointed by the economic minister, is five years. Important duties of the post:

  • Monitor the implementation of the law and see if employers and workers comply with the law

  • Investigation based on complaints filed by workers or by inspectors or others under the Act

  • Investigate any issue related to safety of the labourers and take necessary steps

Fines up to MVR 50,000

According to the bill, in some cases, the director general has the power to rectify things or order a halt to work. The underlying conditions include:

  • A situation where the safety of the workers cannot be ensured due to the condition of the workplace

  • Violation of any duty under the law by anyone

  • The Director General is convinced that what someone has done or left undone can affect the health and safety of employees at the workplace

If the Director General’s orders are violated, considering the magnitude of the offence, he or she will be charged MVR 5,000. A fine of up to MVR 50,000 can be imposed, the bill states. For every day of unpaid fines of the directive, an additional 3% of the fine amount will be levied.

Within 14 days from the date of issuance of the order, a proposal to review the decision has to be submitted to the Economic Minister. If there is a popular reason for review, the director general should issue the order again on the instructions of the minister.

In cases where the law is not specified in any manner, violators will be fined between MVR 1,000 - 25,000 depending on the scale of the offence.

Compensation for injuries

The bill also provides for compensation for expenses and losses in case of temporary or permanent disability due to injury to a worker during work. Thus:

  • Medical expenses for injuries; the employer should arrange for medicine and medical consultations for the worker without any additional charge

  • Employers should pay wages for days spent not being able to work due to injury

  • Employer should compensate for temporary or permanent disability due to body damage

  • The heirs of the labourer have the right to be compensated if their lives are lost

The quantum of compensation will be determined by the rules made under the Act. The rules will have to specify the minimum amount and the maximum amount to be charged, the bill said. The figure has to be revised every three years.

The amount of compensation that can be taken in the event of a permanent disability due to a body injury is determined by taking into account the average income a worker earns for a month, the percentage of disability experienced by that worker, and his or her order. The compensation is levied for a maximum period of 12 months or until the maximum duration for change prescribed under the rules is met.

In case of temporary disability, compensation can be taken for a maximum period of six months or until the maximum amount prescribed in the rules is met.

In the event of a worker's death, compensation is determined according to the rules based on his average monthly income and age.

Special council to advise minister

According to the bill, the economy minister has the power to make all policies related to workers' safety and health care. The bill also seeks to set up a council called the Work Place Safety and Health Advisory Council to advise the minister.  

The council, which has a total strength of 13 members, was to be formed within six months of the act coming into force. Here's how the minister should form the council:

  • Three members from organisations representing employers

  • Three members from organisations representing employees

  • Three members of the ministry or any other government agency who are responsible for workplace safety and health care

  • Three members representing technical organisations working for workplace safety and health care

  • Member representing the Health Ministry

Some members are appointed from among the applicants when public announcements are made. Out of these members who will be appointed for a five-year term, the chairman and deputy chairman are appointed to the council by the minister.

Important responsibilities of this council are as follows:

  • Provide technical advice to the minister on workplace safety and health

  • Highlighting the visible amendments to the law and regulations and the challenges in implementation of the law

  • Statistical analysis of workplace-related mortality and injury

  • Advising agencies on formulating safety-related industry codes