Wed | Nov 25, 2020

QUARANTINE JOB THREAT - Election workers withdrawing from duty as bosses dare to yank leave

Published:Wednesday | September 2, 2020 | 12:00 AMAndre Williams/Staff Reporter
Director of Elections Glasspole Brown (second right) issues instructions while supervising the transfer of ballots and other supplies to polling stations across the Island on Tuesday. Jamaicans head to the polls on Thursday, September 3.

Director of Elections Glasspole Brown is taking a wait-and-see approach to determine whether the withdrawal of temporary election day workers because of quarantine threats from employers will affect operations at polling stations islandwide when Jamaicans vote on Thursday.

His comment comes in the wake of emerging cases of employers, ranging from financial institutions to corporate giants, vowing to force workers to stay home after election day while deducting the 14-day period from their vacation and sick leave benefits.

A spike in coronavirus cases, nearing 2,500 up to Monday, has triggered concerns that a failure to adhere to health guidelines during voting might increase infections. Numerous workplaces shutter daily as the virus spreads throughout the population.

A decision allowing infected voters to turn up at polling booths may also be adding to fears that temporary election day workers may transfer the virus when they return to their standard jobs.

A regional officer with the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) told The Gleaner that as early as last Friday, calls of withdrawals began to surface.

The representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of confidentiality concerns, said that temporary employees comprise the lion’s share of the workforce that mans polling stations on election day.

“When it comes on to a national election, 90 per cent of the persons are from outside,” the regional officer said.

CHANGING THEIR MINDS

“Even recently I got a call from another region asking if I have anybody else ‘cause persons dropping out like flies.”

That development compounds the pressure on the EOJ a day after Brown revealed that COVID-19 concerns had caused some election day workers to change their minds about participating in the process.

“There are some cases, not a lot of cases, but a few cases based on what was brought to my attention by some of my managers who are working on the projects re election day,” the director said of the quarantine threats.

“But let us see what happens on Thursday morning,” he said when asked if the withdrawal could complicate election day proceedings in the COVID-19 era.

Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Colette Roberts-Risden, charged that bosses would have no basis on which to advise their employees to go into quarantine because they performed election day duties.

Roberts-Risden said that the imposition of 14-day quarantine restrictions apply exclusively to travellers from overseas and others who are suspected to have come in contact with persons who have tested positive for COVID-19. The 14-day window was so defined to coincide with the incubation period of the virus.

The permanent secretary questioned the legality of employers seeking to force workers to go into quarantine if they have not been so advised by the Ministry of Health & Wellness.

“I am not sure on what legal basis the employers would be requiring that workers go into mandatory quarantine, having worked on election day, and to then take it from vacation leave or sick days,” Roberts-Risden told The Gleaner on Tuesday.

“Vacation leave has to be applied by a worker and an employer ought not to mandate a worker to apply for vacation leave. An employer can encourage a worker to apply for vacation, but cannot mandate it,” she added.

andre.williams@gleanerjm.com