In focus: Covid-19, Essential & Non-Essential Workers

 

 

In light of Jamaica’s corona virus cases the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) has mandated that non-essential workers with the capability to work-from-home do so. In case you are wondering essential/key workers are those involved in essential services which I have categorized as:

  • Health & Social Care
  • Utility & Energy
  • Communications & IT
  • Transportation & Logistics
  • Critical Manufacturing- Example production, processing, sale of food items
  • Emergency Services & Public/National Security- fire-fighters, ODPEM
  • Key Public Services- postal workers, admin roles related to crisis response

Essential service is defined as key workers rendering services that the interruption of which would endanger life, health or personal safety of the whole or part of the population. All other workers are considered non-essential.

According to the Prime Minister’s (PM) statement dated March 17 non-essential work is described as, “that which can be done outside of the traditional office setting.” This becomes quite problematic. Many non-essential work which could have been performed from home are being completed in-office because the GOJ and companies have not invested in the necessary infrastructure and training that would facilitate remote access and ICT competency.

The result is a HR dilemma where employers decide who should work-from-home based on:

  • Resources- availability and access to laptops, CUGs, remote access to network/computer, software etc.
  • Underlying medical condition- elevated risk factor related to age, asthma, lung disease, pregnancy, HIV, obesity, heart disease etc.
  • Humanity- personal decision of employer to practise altruism

It is a classic catch-22 with employers being roasted regardless, lucky employees working from home feeling euphoric, while those who have to report to work feeling undervalued, demoralised and resentful to the former two parties.

Somewhere in the back of my head I know it is a partial shutdown of the country- a necessary risk management step- but foremost is the thought, “Is this a divide and conquer strategy?” It sure feels like one because I will always remember those workers who got to work-from-home and how my employer treated me. This brings me to this social media post:

“Pay attention to how your employer treats you during this time, that is their core value”

What becomes of those non-essential employees who assessed their own situation and opted to stay home unpaid? Will they be discriminated against going forward? What measures are in place for them and all other workers who fall below a certain income bracket and may require a bail-out? Covid-19 may have impacted many sectors and continues to highlight deficiencies in biological hazard management for example but for me it has brought social welfare and workers’ rights into focus.

 

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