Statement from Toni Moore, the General Secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union
If we were to describe this COVID-19 pandemic in three words, they would be complex, fluid and uncertain. It has forced many countries around the world to make a number of critical decisions and many difficult trade-offs on the analysis of their health, economic and social systems. These trade-offs are occurring in a very fluid environment, and it is not hyperbole to suggest that it is creating massive uncertainty.
Measured against the vicious reality that many were thrown into since the second quarter of 2020, attempts to contain this health crisis have exacerbated a jobs crisis. The Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) was therefore constrained to support earlier calls to impose excessive ‘lockdown’ restrictions. For, while we recognise that some employees have returned to work, unemployment now stands in the region of 30% and the working-class continues to bear the brunt of this pandemic. The most vulnerable are typically the ones who cannot work remotely and are therefore the first to face unemployment.
Given the current spike in the virus and recognising that resolving this health crisis in the shortest possible time is an essential precondition to managing the economic and jobs crisis at hand, the BWU supports the decision of the Government of Barbados to implement a period of pause where aggressive actions relating to testing, education and health care can be addressed.
The Barbados Workers’ Union’s support is against the backdrop that reversing the upward trend in unemployment ultimately requires us to keep the number of cases and the spread of COVID-19 to a minimum. The effectiveness of these proposed measures, as well as the securing of lives and livelihoods to an extent depends on all of us, residents and citizens of this country. It requires us to acknowledge what is at stake and to understand the need for solidarity rather than slander to pull Barbados back from further health, economic and job devastation.
Notwithstanding this, the BWU is mindful that these proposed measures will result in loss of earnings for many. It is for this reason that every effort must be made to ensure that the tightened restrictions do not exceed the proposed fifteen (15) day period. The Union is therefore calling on all workers and their families to regard this period as being a defining moment in this country’s economic recovery. In addition, it is also reiterating its call for a holistic approach to the measures required.
During this period of tightened restrictions, companies should extend cooperation in securing income protection for their employees. While the BWU remains ever cognizant that mandatory business restrictions, quarantines and limitations on mobility have put workers and employers alike under severe strain, effecting lay-offs or no pay arrangements should not be a consideration where better can be done. The shutdown of 2020, found the BWU fighting instances of company attempts to force workers to proceed on sick leave or vacation leave. Such behaviour is irresponsible and contemptible. At this time, a good show of social solidarity requires businesses to extend themselves and sacrifice to the greatest extent possible, to ensure that workers, particularly the most vulnerable, can get that much-needed support. This will go a long in making sure that households survive the planned two (2) weeks of pause, as employees who are unable to work remotely can receive an income during this period of mandatory restriction.
Workers are reminded that only by agreement between themselves and their employers are they expected to proceed on annual holiday where less than fourteen (14) days notice has been given. Although employees may not be forced to proceed on vacation with less than fourteen (14) days notice, they may, through or after discussion with the employer, be convinced of the value in agreeing to use the mandatory period of tightened restriction for vacation purposes.
It is the view of the BWU that going forward, the approach to sick leave must change. Extraordinary paid sickness benefit entitlements, must be extended to ensure workplace safety. As previously stated, employees who are required to quarantine should not have to contemplate being paid, or being forced to surrender entitlements under existing sickness and holiday provisions. These gaps in protection may in some instances threaten public health, as workers may be compelled to continue earning even though they may be experiencing known symptoms of the disease, thereby presenting a possible threat to others in the workplace.
The BWU is also repeating earlier calls for documentation from the Ministry of Health and Wellness and Medical Practitioners, that would support the recommendation for employees to quarantine. Similarly, employees should receive confirmation of negative tests which are to be submitted to employers before they can be allowed to return to work from quarantine or isolation. The Union rejects any notion that because employers may have facilitated testing for staff, that these results should be sent to the employer first. In recent weeks, we have had to address instances where employers were notifying workers that it is safe for them to return to work from quarantine, although no proof of negative tests results were received by the employee. Employers must not seek to undermine the objective of prioritising safety at work above all else.
While we are on the inside, the BWU is urging its members to stay safe and to stay connected by sending any queries, complaints or concerns they may have to email@example.com, by direct message on its social media platforms or via telephone at 573-5017.
Let’s pause and refresh! Barbados, may God bless us all.