Wed | Oct 21, 2020

Boos for back-to-work order - PM urged not to prejudice task force plan

Published:Thursday | May 21, 2020 | 12:26 AMDanae Hyman/Staff Reporter
O'Neil Grant
O'Neil Grant

The president of one of Jamaica’s most powerful unions has warned the Government against pushing for the whole-scale return of the workforce to offices and plants. The high-ranking official has also suggested that the decision might prejudice the proposals of the Economic Recovery Task Force, which is mandated to roll out the road map to firing up commerce.

Since March 18, all non-essential employees across government and the private sector were required to work from home as part of the Government’s restrictions to contain the risk of transmission of the novel coronavirus. Holness announced on Monday that he would not be renewing the work-from-home order when it expires at the end of May.

Though giving a clear signal that the Jamaican economy was headed for a June 1 “reopening”, the island has not suffered from the types of blanket lockdowns that have crippled the United States, Europe, and other regions.

But O’Neil Grant, who heads the Jamaica Civil Service Association, representing the core of the public bureaucracy, is insistent that the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force be allowed the time to submit comprehensive recommendations.

Grant said he was fully supportive of reinvigorating trade and commerce but expressed reservations about the country’s readiness.

“The task force was given a job to do for the resumption of full economic activity ... . He should, however, not be just taking one aspect of resuming economic activity and run with it. He should be looking at a comprehensive approach in the resumption of the economic activity,” he told The Gleaner yesterday.

“We thought that given the timeline that was given to the task force that some relaxation of the May 31 ending of the work-from-home orders would have been looked at so as to give the task force the time needed to come up with a comprehensive set of recommendations for the reopening of the economy,” Grant said.

NOT READY FOR PHYSICAL WORKSPACE

Grant believes that public-health concerns must trump the economic imperative.

That sentiment was reinforced by fellow trade unionist, Helene Davis-Whyte, president of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions. She has also cautioned against the impending lifting of the work-from-home order, declaring that most employees are in no frame of mind to return to the physical workspaces just yet.

Another business leader, Richard Pandohie, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association and CEO of the SEPROD Group, said that he would be allowing his employees to continue working remotely even after the mandated work-from-home expiry date.

“The truth is, less than 10 per cent of our workforce is out because most of our workers are in the manufacturing and production space, but we will continue to rotate them with working from home and coming to the office from time to time,” said Pandohie.

He conceded, however, that he had not conducted a comprehensive assessment on productivity but said that the displacedment caused by coronavirus containment measures “showed that we don’t have to have everybody in a physical space all the time”.

Don Wehby, CEO of GraceKennedy Group, which operates a mix of production plants and financial-services office workspaces, said that 86 per cent of non-factory staff have been remotely working since the work-from-home order was issued.

Wehby said that a steering community established by the group in March would guide the final decision.

“My inclination is that I will not be asking all the staff to come back to work, but I will do it on a phased basis and on a rotation basis,” he told The Gleaner.

“I think we are being conservative and will review it in about another month,” Wehby said.

danae.hyman@gleanerjm.coM