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BPO worry - Workers scared after colleague tests positive for COVID-19

Published:Sunday | April 12, 2020 | 12:33 AMAndre Williams - Gleaner Writer

Call-centre workers employed to a business process outsourcing (BPO) outfit are now concerned following the announcement that one member of staff has tested positive for COVID-19, triggering fear across its Portmore and Kingston locations.

According to reports, the individual, a young woman who is stationed at the Portmore branch, has not been to work since April 6.

The call centre has since temporarily closed its offices.

Jamaica now has 69 cases of the highly infectious coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

An employee told The Sunday Gleaner that “workers came in contact with her and came to the Kingston branch for training. The company opened a new account, so Portmore workers had to travel to Kingston to do the training. We started working on the account, taking calls and everything, but because of spacing issues, we were set to relocate”.

The employee, who has been with the BPO firm for over 14 months, said: “The company is not doing the social distancing. People still a pack up on the floor. Is because we can’t take no phone on the floor why we don’t sneak a picture.”

In a memo to staff members, the company, Alorica, said it, too, had just learned of the positive test result of the employee, noting that the individual would remain off site until cleared to return to work.

The company also told staff members that over the weekend, the Portmore facility would undergo deep cleaning and sanitation. It said that the Health Ministry would, on Tuesday, conduct a site inspection, and next week, employees would be notified when they should return to work.

It said, too, that individuals who were in direct contact with the infected employee were being informed, and it would continue to keep in touch with them to ensure their well-being and confirm their health status.

According to sources, the contact tracing could span hundreds of people, comprising families and communities.

Another Portmore employee said that they asked the workers to report to work on Friday to undergo testing, however, she did not make it and would now be forced to do an away test before she returned to the site.

The call centre employee said: “They can’t trace this, and they need to speak the truth. Is like it get away. About 50 Portmore workers go Kingston for training, and some may have come in contact with the girl. Dem say she stop work April 6, so what happen to the days leading up to that? She interact with a lot of people.”

ONLY INCOME

Concerned more about the economic impact than the virus, a male worker told our news team: “It is my only income - the only work I ever do from I leave high school. I just try to take my precautions and block out what is happening. Yes, it is more than 10, more than 20 people on the floor, but what must I do? I can’t stay home.”

He added: “Don’t get me wrong. A lot of people are worried because you can’t see this virus coming. Look what happen to the girl! And she was around other employees.”

Efforts to reach Gloria Henry, president of the Business Process Industry Association of Jamaica, were unsuccessful.

The BPO sector provides jobs for some 40,000 Jamaicans.

Since the declaration of the global pandemic by the World Health Organization, members of the BPO sector say that they have been working steadfastly to implement business-continuity strategies for the sector and at the same time ensuring that they protect the health and well-being of their greatest assets: their employees.

Last month, there was a meeting involving sector players and representatives of the Ministry of Health and Wellness, where a raft of measures were reportedly decided on.

These include a decision that effective immediately, BPO companies will allow no more than 20 people in a break room at any given time. As well as to ensure that there is social distancing, each employee at a BPO centre is to be six feet away from each other.

The sector players were urged by the health ministry to have a plan in place should a large number of their staff become sick while employees were encouraged to stay home if they were ill.

andre.wright@gleanerjm.com