Mon | May 25, 2020

Union leader cautions PM on back-to-work order

Published:Tuesday | May 19, 2020 | 12:20 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
Bumper-to-bumper traffic snakes its way along Spanish Town Road on to Mandela Highway, an uncommon sight since the outbreak of COVID-19. Increasing congestion is a signal of a gradual reinvigoration of a flagging economy after months of curfews, lockdowns, and other restrictions on movement and gatherings.
Bumper-to-bumper traffic snakes its way along Spanish Town Road on to Mandela Highway, an uncommon sight since the outbreak of COVID-19. Increasing congestion is a signal of a gradual reinvigoration of a flagging economy after months of curfews, lockdowns, and other restrictions on movement and gatherings.

A LEADING trade unionist has reacted with caution to the impending June 1 lifting of the work-from-home orders, declaring that most employees are in no frame of mind to return to the physical workspace environment just yet.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has given the clearest signal yet that the Jamaican economy is headed for a June 1 reopening, as he has announced that the work-from-home order will be lifted on that date.

Helene Davis-Whyte, president of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU), said yesterday that her organisation would be pushing for more details on protocols to govern the lifting of the order.

“I really did not expect that the stay-at-home order would have been permanent. We expect though that the lifting should be determined based on the public-health considerations.

“... We will be enquiring as to what those public-health considerations were,” Davis-Whyte, who is also part of Holness’ Economic Recovery Task Force, told The Gleaner yesterday.

But as several business interests continue to make demands for a set date for the full reopening of the economy, the veteran trade unionist cautioned the prime minister against being pressured to make decisions.

“We are saying to the prime minister, we do not believe he should allow himself to be pressured or coerced into taking any action that is not in keeping with the best interest of the workers,” Davis-Whyte said.

“Not just that they wouldn’t be in a frame of mind, but certainly workers would be concerned that protocols are in place and that employers would be required to observe those protocols”

Holness said all the normal infection prevention and safety protocols, which include social distancing and hand sanitisation, would need to be in place for the June 1 resumption, but did not elaborate on any further requirements.

Also weighing in on Holness’ announcement was businesswoman Thalia Lyn, who said she welcomed the continued phased reopening of sectors of the economy.

“I feel that that lifting of the work-from-home will be helpful to business. I feel that with the fact that we didn’t have any more new cases, that will help us. There are glimmers of hope, although dark clouds are still being confined to quarters,” she said.

Lyn said she was especially concerned about mothers who had to juggling staying at home and tending to their children.

“It must be tough and it can be distracting, so going to work now would get rid of that, but who is going to take care of the children?” Lyn questioned.

Davis-Whyte believes that the Occupation, Health and Work Safety bill currently before a joint select committee of parliament should be fast-tracked to ensure worker protection.