Challenges thrown up by COVID-19 have been met frontally by the Ministry of Labour and Social Partnership Relations and through adherence to the whole of government approach.
This was declared by Labour Minister, Colin Jordan, as he updated the country about the work of his various departments during the pandemic, at a press conference at Ilaro Court, last evening.
While stating that the Ministry took guidance from the office of the Chief Medical Officer, Mr. Jordan noted that they were able to intervene and assist employers to better understand various concepts related to the COVID-19 work environment.
Referring to some of these concepts, he said: “The difference between quarantine and isolation. What happens when you are in isolation? What happens when you quarantine? Which is sick leave? Which is not sick leave? What can an employer do? We have taken a whole of government approach.
“And so the Chief Medical Officer … met with employers and spelt out to them the differences between these various concepts …. We believe that those matters are much better understood now, but I still think that I need to say to us that, for example, if you have been asked to quarantine at home or in any other place, then you cannot be at work.”
Emphasising that the approach worked, the Labour Minister stated that now no employer could say to any person, who an officer under the Office of the Chief Medical Officer has asked to go into quarantine, that “you have to come to work”.
Pointing out why this had to be clearly stated, he added: “I know it has been said before, but as the Minister responsible for Labour, I think I need to repeat it because sometimes we are prone to forget isolation means that the person is ill and that is better understood because illness is something that happens from time to time.”
He also noted that there was clear understanding of challenges that came last year with the initial lockdown and now in 2021, such as matters relating to primary, secondary and tertiary contacts.
While stressing it was not acceptable for anybody to flout an instruction from the Chief Medical Officer or from somebody acting on behalf of that office, he revealed that some challenges, in relation to quarantine and pay, came to his Ministry’s attention.
Noting that isolation, which means illness, was “pretty much covered”, Minister Jordan said quarantine was a different situation. He said there was no precedent for it, so no law exists that addresses how workers are to be treated in relation to time spent in quarantine.
He stated: “However, as we keep speaking to the matter of fairness and reasonableness and justice, we have continually asked, and I know that we had some cooperation….
“We have asked employing organisations and managers to, as far as possible, assist the workers. When we came into office in 2018, long before the pandemic, in the adjustment that we were going through, we knew that there was going to be burden, and from 2018, we’ve been speaking to the matter of sharing burden.… And so, when we speak, as we often do with employers, we ask employers … to help with the sharing of burden.”
The Labour Minister acknowledged there were differences in the “depths of pockets in relation to businesses” and in what some businesses could do.
“We try to lean on employers, as far as possible, to be fair; to be reasonable and to share the burden because we know that there is a burden and we asked for some sharing of the burden,” he said.