As a person who has worked man and boy for 30 years, and run a business for half that time I think I have observed a thing or two about the responsibilities of an employer as it pertains to the treatment of their employees. In fact, one only has to observe how your supermarket of choice clothes the staff who work in the deep freeze for example. That is because in principle the employer, owes the employee what is known as a duty of care – which means that any and all reasonable efforts should be taken to ensure that your employees are not exposed to undue risk, danger or harm.
Unless you have been living under a very large rock or in a cave or perhaps aboard the International Space Station, anyone remotely connected with the Kittivisian diaspora, would know that I’m about to touch on the situation at Basseterre High School (BHS). But I’m going to expand beyond the confines of Basseterre and indeed St. Kitts and Nevis and speak more broadly and then return.
A few months ago, there was a lot of talk about an unsigned letter which leveled a number of claims and accusations about the operation at the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB). Naturally, some tried to dismiss the letter as trouble making, and dismissed the allegations as baseless and accuse the writer of cowardice and so on. I myself have received a similar letter addressed to an organisation I’m associated with and it can be difficult to address but such matters should not necessarily be so quickly dismissed.
But let us consider the ramifications for the writer of such a letter in our Caribbean context. In our small societies and economies where everybody knows everybody and their business perhaps better than they know their own, and where the number of employers are small. To be a whistle blower and put your name to a letter would be tantamount to economic if not literal suicide, and an act with consequences for your dependents as well as oneself. Even if your post doesn’t become redundant, should you choose to leave, how easily would you be hired? If you’re lucky enough to get an interview the exchange might go something like – “Oh I see you spent some time at ABC Ltd Mr. Williams, would you be the same Mr. Williams who divulged the goings on there? Well thanks for coming by we have a few more candidates to see and we’ll be in touch.”
Now I’m sure the same scenario would play out in any Caribbean country, so with all the best will in the world when the Governor of the bank tells us “we have procedures and so to deal with matters, eh.” I don’t doubt him for a minute and I’m sure the bank does have systems in place for employees to bring their concerns. But who’s to say that this employee, wasn’t quite ready for retirement and therefore decided not to continue to register their concerns more formally?
So what does this have to do with the situation at BHS, I hear you ask. Last week the nation was made aware that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) had submitted an occupational safety report on the situation at BHS to the Labour Commissioner among others back in June 2014, but unlike the CARIRI and CARPHA reports which were published on the Internet and local media the same week, this report languished and gathered dust for five months. This report indicated that the situation should be treated with urgency and should be considered a “public health matter” since teachers at a near by preschool were complaining of illness and the preschool has since relocated.
This got me thinking, given the size of St. Kitts and Nevis, could it be possible for the Labour Commissioner not to have a family member who attends BHS, or works at BHS or as we now know lives close to the BHS campus? Is it possible that there is no-one he felt some level of compassion if not loyalty or an obligation to, that he should do something? Is it also possible that no one else in the Labour Department was aware of the contents of the report and were also an orphan with no other living relatives or friends for whom they thought they should do the right thing?
I wonder had this been the situation at a private sector business or perhaps I should be more precise and say a locally owned and operated private business, if the Labour Commissioner would have acted in the same shameful manner? Of course we know better. So I am left to wonder what powerful force could be exerted on the Commissioner or others with that department, the Ministries of Education and Health to treat their country men and women, this way. What inducement is there that could cause these people to expose the nation’s youth and the public at large to potential harm?
Perhaps they prayed about it after they took their thirty pieces of silver and kept quiet for five long months. Now, cast your mind back to the author of the letter at the ECCB. Reflect for a while on our supposed country motto! I think it might be time to change it, as I’m sure whoever coined it like me cannot believe St. Kitts and Nevis has come to such a farce.
About the Writer
An IT Professional for more than 20 years and an entrepreneur for more than a decade, Russell Williams has extensive experience as an IT Trainer and facilitator and is happy to answer your questions. E-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @RwilliamsKN, G+ google.com/+RussellWilliamsKN