Public servants and temporary and casual government workers will benefit from unexpected back pay, as the Cabinet approved retroactive pandemic leave on Thursday, mere days before the general election.
An unspecified number of people will benefit, but the decision will likely impose a significant wage bill on the State.
It will pay the full salaries of several groups who could not work for a number of reasons.
These are: workers who contracted covid19, were unable to work because of parental obligations, could not return to work because of closed borders, were sent home by their employer because of flu-like symptoms, were quarantined by a health or state authority, voluntarily decided to self-isolate, were not rostered to work or could not work remotely.
A circular from the acting Chief Personnel Officer, Darryl Dindial, dated August 7, was sent to permanent secretaries, heads of department, the chief administrator of the Tobago House of Assembly, and heads of statutory authorities, which govern regional corporations, among other organisations.
It said the retroactive leave is effective from March 16-June 21 – the period covering the lockdown of public institutions to prevent the possible spread of covid19.
All absences during that period related to covid19 must now be reclassified.
Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus broached the idea of pandemic leave in mid-March, when the first cases of covid19 were detected in TT.
She said then that the new category of leave was being proposed to deal with the absence from duty of a broad spectrum of workers in various state agencies.
Dindial had been working on the proposal to accommodate parents who had no support systems to care for their children, as schools and daycare centres were all closed.
Those workers who would have exhausted all their sick leave would first take extended sick leave before being entitled to apply for pandemic leave.
But a month later, the Prime Minister said in Parliament that the idea of pandemic leave was premature, as public servants and other state employees were ordered to remain home as part of the fight against covid19.
He said, “The concern that generated pandemic leave in its fullness is no longer with us. The matter of whether or not you have some element of it still being considered is there, but there is no pandemic leave as was initially envisaged to take care of any person who may be away from work more than their 14 days’ sick leave.”
Rowley said the government’s decision to allow state employees to stay at home for almost three and a half months superseded any talk of an additional pandemic leave.
With the rapid recent climb in the number of new covid19 cases and the possibility of yet another lockdown after Monday’s general election, Rowley has already broadcast that the first lockdown cost the government billions and there was simply not enough money to do it again.
Sunday Newsday contacted Public Administration Minister Allyson West for clarification on and additional details of the new category of leave, but was referred to the Labour Minister, who like other ministers, was travelling across various parts of the country in motorcades in the final stages of the election campaign.
Messages sent to Public Services Association president Watson Duke, who is contesting the Tobago West seat, were not returned.
Deputy UNC leader and Oropouche East candidate Dr Roodal Moonilal said, “That is nothing more than a transparent election gimmick. It will not and cannot work.
“No one has confidence in this government that they will deliver anything. This is their last stand on the way out.”
What is pandemic leave?
The circular on pandemic leave sent out by the CPO says it is a new category of leave in the public service for employees who are absent from work as a consequence of circumstances associated with the covid19 pandemic.
Cabinet minute no 1390, dated August 6, approved the national policy guidelines on preparing workplaces for covid19, its objective being to minimise the spread by keeping employees safe and well at work.
The CPO told state employers to implement the provisions of the leave in keeping with specific criteria identified in a specific form which provides for approval or non-approval of special sick leave, pandemic leave with full pay.
The categories of workers who would be entitled to such leave include: permanent or temporary public officers; employees of regional corporations; hourly, daily and weekly rated workers; part-time monthly-paid workers, including those who are employed on a seasonal basis; fixed-term contract workers; and short-term contract employees such as OJTs.
Those workers will be eligible to be authorised to have been absent from work between March 16 and June 21, the stay-at-home period.
If any employee in those groups has tested positive for covid19, he or she may be eligible for special sick leave.
“No worker, employee, office holder shall suffer any loss in the calculations of his or her pension, acting allowance, gratuity, or incremental duties payments or any other benefit or leave entitlement based on the classification of leave in accordance with this circular,” it noted.
Department heads were told they must review the list of employees who were absent during the lockdown period, and review and reclassify their reason for being absent in keeping with the provisions of the new category of pandemic leave.