Public Admin Ministry: Working from home is neither an entitlement nor a right

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Some positions within the Public Service simply do not allow for the work from home arrangement according to Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Public Administration Claudelle McKellar as he addressed the Joint Select Committee on the impact of the work from home and other alternative work arrangements. 

McKellar sought to clear the air as he said some workers may feel as though they are being treated unfairly. “It can happen that some officers will feel the ability or the facility to work from home is an entitlement or right. No, it is not. It is a mechanism of allowing the work of the ministry or organisation to continue using different methodologies,” he said.

He also noted that persons should be mature enough to recognize that not all jobs are the same. As such, he gave assurances that it is not an issue of unfair treatment or bias. 

“It’s an equitable situation. It’s not about equality, but equity.”

When asked about a work from home policy and the impact it can have on the ease of doing business, McKellar explained that it plays a much bigger role in the delivery of service. One that can be adopted by the public service. 

Moreso with digitization high on his ministry’s agenda, the Permanent Secretary explained, “We recognize that work from home and other alternative arrangements have a bigger role to play in the service delivery model that could be adopted or implemented for the public service.”

He continued, “The government has clearly stated its intention to move us toward a digital economy. In such a scenario, we want to move to a situation where citizens and stakeholders can access government services online.” 

He further explained that once this is done and services are available online, Clerks or Customer Service Representatives will not necessarily need to be in an office. “That person can, with the appropriate technology and training, provide services to customers and clients from the comfort of their home.”

The benefits are a reduced wait time and a reduction in the loss of productivity among other factors, on both the supply and demand ends. 

At the start of the pandemic, with the closure of schools, there were very limited options for parents since pandemic leave which was announced by the CPO and Minister of Labour at the time never materialized and is now a matter at the Industrial Court. 

Therefore, workers were forced to stay at home with their children, and many dedicated workers were therefore forced to work from home without any additional allowances or compensation for using their own devices, and their own resources to get the work completed such as the internet, phone, electricity, etc.  They worked from home in an effort to get their work done as best they could given the circumstances and still allow for some level of delivery of service to the public. Schools and daycare facilities have not been re-opened fully and workers on 2013 salaries cannot afford to pay for full-time babysitters. As such working from home remains their only option.

In fact, in many countries around the world, tens of thousands of workers at businesses and government departments were actually encouraged or told to work from home, if possible, all in an effort to mitigate the spread of the covid-19 virus and its variants. But as virus fears begin to wane, some governments are discontinuing work from home systems. 

International data suggest that working from home works for people. There has also been no decline in productivity. In countries like the UK, government departments have been told to accelerate the return of officials to the office after covid-19 regulations on working from home were removed. But one-third of the country’s workforce is still working from home.