State renews agreement to work to provide Mexican nationals resources to promote occupational safety, health

FILE - Clouds associated with a passing cold front drift over the downtown Little Rock skyline, April 5, 2017.

The state Department of Labor and Licensing on Thursday renewed its agreement with the Mexican Consulate in Little Rock and the U.S. Department of Labor to work together to provide Mexican nationals and others information, guidance and access to education and training resources to promote workers’ rights in protecting their occupational safety and health.

Under their agreement, the state and federal agencies and the Mexican Consulate in Little Rock also aim to work together to help these people understand United States law on the rights of workers and the responsibilities of employers under the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Officials representing the state Department of Labor and Licensing, the Mexican Consulate in Little Rock and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration signed the renewal of the agreement Thursday.

The agreement has been signed annually since 2011, said Steve Guntharp, chief of staff at the state Department of Labor and Licensing.

“It’s an agreement that is rooted in collaboration, an agreement that will foster greater economic development and workforce development in Arkansas, and it’s an agreement that will further our connections with the nation of Mexico,” state Department of Labor and Licensing Secretary Daryl Bassett said at a news conference in the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the state Capitol.

The agreement will facilitate training of both workers and private industry to enhance the safety of the workplaces in Arkansas, he said.

“We welcome these challenges,” Bassett said. “We know there will be some, but knowing that we have business and industry working along with us, knowing that we have the support of the Mexican government, we feel that we are going to be able to provide opportunities and continue to provide opportunities to workers as well as a vibrant economy for the people of the state of Arkansas.”

The Consul of Mexico Carlos Ignacio Giralt Cabrales said the agreement also is aimed at promoting a national dialogue on safety and health matters in the workplace.

“Support for this arrangement is good for the local economy, it’s good for the workers, and it’s good for everybody,” he said. “It’s [also] good for the friendship between the state of Arkansas and Mexico because let’s not forget that Mexico and the United States we are neighbors, partners and allies and we will keep doing so for the foreseeable future.”

Kia McCullough, area director for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said “we are eager to continue working with our state partners and the Mexican Consulate to provide outreach and educational resources for the workers in the state of Arkansas

“Everyone who works in this country has the right to a safe and healthy workplace,” she said. “We know that many workers are at increased risk, sometimes because of the jobs they do, the language they speak or their national origin, so for that our alliance will assist us in reaching out to some of our most vulnerable workers.”