Tue | Aug 4, 2020

Smooth transition cited as work-from-home order elapses

Published:Tuesday | June 2, 2020 | 12:28 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter

As the work-from-home order expired on May 31 and employees returned to physical workplaces on Monday, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation (MEGJC), Audrey Sewell, said that things got off to a smooth start at her ministry, with stringent measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The mandatory wearing of masks for both staff and visitors, heightened sanitisation protocols, and staggered work hours are some of the measures introduced by the ministry as it welcomed back some staffers who worked from home during the period of the order.

All members of staff at the Office of the Prime Minister and the MEGJC were given masks yesterday.

The ministry has a complement of 380 workers at its head office, three offsite locations in Kingston and St Andrew, and four regional offices.

Sewell told The Gleaner yesterday that members of staff with underlying conditions are still working from home.

The back-to-work resumption was discussed at a recent meeting of the board of the permanent secretaries, which is chaired by the Cabinet secretary. At that meeting, the bosses of the various ministries were given general directions on protocols to be implemented.

The ministry also ensured that employees who work from home were equipped with the necessary technology to carry out their duties.

Sewell said that the ministry also provided transportation for some persons in particular areas who had expressed concern about travelling on public transportation.

“So far, I have not got any report that there is any issue,” she said.

However, she encouraged staff to raise any concerns they had with their supervisors.

Sewell said that the ministry was not able to facilitate every request from employees to work from home. However, she said that workers should have dialogue with their supervisors, who would be able to make a determination on a case-by-case basis.

Embrace work from home

Meanwhile, president general of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), Kavan Gayle, is encouraging employers in both the public and private sectors to implement a gradual resumption of activities at the workplace.

Gayle said that in cases where workers can continue to work from home at this time, employers should embrace this approach.

“One of the things I wanted to have seen is that businesses do a risk assessment in light of the pandemic to assess where infection can take place with this resumption because it is not business as usual,” he said.

The BITU president general said that his union had started to engage employers in discussions, prior to the lifting of the work-from-home order, on exemptions in extenuating circumstances such as the supervision of children who are not in school because of coronavirus restrictions.

With the exception of high-school students who are sitting the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination, all other students are slated for a September return to school.

Gayle said allegations that supervisors and permanent secretaries had put pressure on workers to show up while the work-from-home order was in place did not come to his attention.

However, he said that workers who are on fixed-term contracts usually face challenges from supervisors and managers.

“It may be situations where that demand is being made by some line managers, and we do know in all of this, whilst the businesses, both public and private sectors, would have issued instructions in terms of how to operate, supervisors would have taken on a different approach, putting pressure on workers in terms of meeting deadlines,” Gayle said.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com