Workers Rights During COVID-19
There are various COVID-19 vaccines available and the Ministry of Health has encouraged persons to get vaccinated to help curb the spread of the virus. Workers in the health sector and essential services such as public utilities and national security are being afforded priority in getting the vaccine.
However, getting vaccinated should not be made a condition of employment. The Honorable Deborah Thomas-Felix, President of the Industrial Court, echoed similar sentiments with the PSA’s position that an employer cannot alter its terms and conditions to make vaccination mandatory for employees.
As the PSA has posited, the best approach to combatting the virus is to shut down all non-critical services. Only organizations that provide healthcare, national security, public utilities and other absolutely critical services should be allowed to operate but even so on a limited basis.
Our members should never be in a situation where they may endanger themselves or others while working.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, it is the duty of the employer to ensure the safety, health and welfare at work for their employees. Therefore, any employer that places workers at risk is potentially breaching the OSH Act and may exacerbate the pandemic crisis.
As a last resort, when faced with a dangerous situation or working environment, every employee has the right to leave or refuse to attend work or take other appropriate steps without any fear of reprisal by the employer as indoctrinated in the OSH Act.
If you believe you are being put at risk it is crucial to get advice and discuss the situation with a PSA representative.
Since the closure of schools and childcare facilities in March 2020 many parents without a support mechanism have faced this issue. The Children’s Act Chapter 46:01 states that a parent or guardian can be charged with a criminal offence if any harm were to come to his/her minor child if the child is left alone unattended. “Child” is defined in the act as “a person under the age of eighteen years.” Therefore, the PSA urges all parents to desist from leaving their minor children at home on their own without any supervision by an adult.
The Manual of Terms and Conditions of Employment that was published by the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) contains a provision of “Grant for Time Off in Exceptional Circumstances” which the PSA contends is applicable to this pandemic.
On Sunday 15th March 2020, the Minister of Labour at that time and the CPO proposed the concept of pandemic leave which today has not materialized. While the CPO and the PSA has arrived at an agreement for pandemic leave, the policy is still awaiting cabinet approval for several months now.
In the interim, parents who are faced with the challenges of child supervision can contact a PSA representative for guidance in drafting correspondence to their employer. This correspondence should include specifics of the familial circumstances and any possible work arrangements that may be amenable include work rotations and work-from-home arrangements where possible. Reference should also be made to the CPO circular concerning “Grant for Time Off in Exceptional Circumstances”.
For further information and guidance members are advised to contact the PSA.