While the Labour and Small Enterprise Development minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus and her team may be trying their best and were well-intentioned, it is very obvious that the minister and her ministry have been caught flat-footed to the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 which began as a handful of infections in China since the beginning of this year has now become a worldwide pandemic, shutting down entire cities and countries, threatening the health of thousands and testing the strength of the global economy.
Despite warnings from the World Health Organization (WHO) the Rowley-led People’s National Movement (PNM) administration is once again, being reactive rather than proactive to what is now a full-blown international pandemic.
Baptiste-Primus’s public posturing revealed that her ministry failed in having the appropriate policy positions, guidelines and protocols put in place as it relates to workplace guide for employees and employers for this pandemic. Her announcements were short on clarity and in the end, there were more questions than answers. For example, who will certify pandemic leave; how can any employee proceed on self-quarantine?
Now that the COVID-19 is very present in the country, the ministry of labour must now ensure that it is prepared to deal with the labour relations conflict in the workplace.
The minister made a broad-based statement as it relates to workers in the public service (sector) but what about the mass of employees who are employed in the private sector. There is the need for more comprehensive guidelines which are properly thought out and which must have the fullest of consultations and collaboration with the business federations such as the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Commerce, the Employer’s Consultative Association, the TTMA, the Confederation of Chamber of Commerce and the labour federations such as NATUC, FITUN and JTUM.
Instead of now rushing into getting such arrangements in place at the very last minute, the labour minister should have ensured that this was given top priority when it became very clear that this was going to be a problem.
Is the Rowley-led administration prepared to pay the bill or provide a subvention for employers in the private sector whose employees proceed on pandemic leave?
How will the government monitor or minimize if there is any abuse of this pandemic leave and what will be the guidelines/disciplinary procedures for employers to pursue if employees are accused of abusing pandemic leave?
In reference to Canada; the government is eliminating the waiting period entirely so employees who are quarantined due to COVID-19 can get employment insurance benefits for an entire 14-day quarantine; the governments of Canada, USA, and the UK are also financially assisting employers who are experiencing a downturn in business due to COVID-19, thus preventing any type of retrenchments and lay-offs.
What initiatives have the Rowley-led administration offered to the employers of the country?
While the minister said that pandemic leave will be counted for the purposes of pensions, gratuities, and other leave entitlements, what are the cost implications for employers?
It remains to be seen if the government is looking into provide any level of financial support and/or subvention to the private sector.
Member of Parliament, Couva South