THE EDITOR: Months into the coronavirus and the Government’s announcement of pandemic leave, thousands of workers are still unclear about what was meant by that and to whom it applies.
For simplicity it is assumed that pandemic leave means that non-essential workers should stay home and receive full pay. Supervisors have the privilege of determining who is essential.
It is not an unknown arrangement in the public service. Every year there is a circular, from permanent secretaries, advising that only essential workers must turn out to work on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. And every year it creates some disquiet among the essential workers because they have to work, with no additional compensation, while their colleagues enjoy Carnival.
If an essential worker is absent from work on the Carnival days or wants to be in the Carnival festivities, he has to apply for sick or another form of leave.
This is grossly unfair to that group of workers. Equality of treatment is definitely ignored. Trade union leaders are aware of this situation but are unmoved because the Carnival days are not public holidays and only a small group of workers are involved. There is also the belief that if essential workers are to be compensated, a large number of non-essential workers may claim to be essential.
The solution is simple. Every government department and every business should have an established list of essential workers, by position, in response to challenges. This should still leave supervisors with some freedom to adjust accordingly.
The covid19 pandemic has brought a manifold multiplication to the Carnival situation. The Government has signalled that there would be no additional reward for essential workers. They would be deemed heroes and given a generous round of applause.
While half, or more, of the public service stays home on full pay, the other half works in some high-risk situations for the same salaries. Can that be fair?
The Ministry of Agriculture has a large livestock farm. Livestock workers are essential because animals have to be tended to everyday. One worker reported with flu-like symptoms to a doctor. He was given 14 days sick leave and ordered to stay home. He sent the sick leave certificate to his office, but his daily paid colleagues were not in office to receive the certificate. They were home on full pay.
Two different agreements govern monthly and daily-paid public servants. It does not negate the fairness principle.
In the current scenario, I suggest that the sick leave taken during the lockdown by essential workers should be paid and not deducted from their allowable 14 days sick leave. Additionally, two weeks vacation leave should be added to the vacation leave entitlement of each essential worker who served for at least 75 per cent of the lockdown period.