The Ministry of Labour is seeking to implement pandemic leave for all public officers, including those who are not eligible for sick leave, during the COVID-19 pandemic and parents who have no one to take care of their children during the mandatory closure of schools this week.
The new category of leave, which is different from sick leave, applies to: public officers, whether they are permanent or temporary, monthly paid and daily-rated; fixed-term contract employees; short-term contract employees; on-the-job trainees; and office holders within the purview of the Salaries Review Commission, whose office falls in the public service, such as top managers in the judiciary and legal services.
Minister of Labour Jennifer Baptiste-Primus made the announcement at a news conference yesterday at the ministry’s office, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain.
It follows Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s announcement on Friday that all schools, universities and places of learning are to remain closed for one week, in the first instance, in order to slow the potential spread of COVID-19.
Baptiste-Primus said the new category of leave forms part of a draft policy for workplaces in dealing with COVID-19. The policy will be taken to Cabinet for approval by Wednesday.
She said it will first go before the National Tripartite Advisory Council for discussion.
The Council comprises members of the business sector, Employers Consultative Association (ECA), trade union movement and Tobago House of Assembly (THA).
Once approved by Cabinet, the document will then be disseminated throughout the public service, trade unions and the private sector, Baptiste-Primus noted.
She said during the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic employers are required to implement pandemic leave provisions within their organisations in a “compassionate manner, which ensures business continuity whilst securing the national interest”.
“We are all in this together. We cannot monitor all the employers out there. We have to appeal to their sense of compassion and their sense of understanding what is being faced in this country and to their sense of fairness to treat with their employees fairly and to follow the guidelines that we have set,” she stated.
The minister reminded managers of schools and teaching institutions who are demanding that teachers still report for duty this week that all schools are to remain closed for one week.
Who qualifies for pandemic leave?
Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) Commander Darryl Dindial noted that there are sick leave and extended sick leave provisions in place for monthly-paid and daily-paid public officers, as well as members of the protective services.
He said those who become ill due to the virus and have exhausted their sick leave and extended sick leave will qualify for pandemic leave.
He noted, however, that pandemic leave will not apply to essential services such as the protective services.
He said other categories of workers, such as short-term and temporary employees who have less than one year’s service and who do not qualify for sick leave and extended leave, can also qualify for pandemic leave.
“If somebody is being sent on sick leave for a suspected case of COVID-19...it is recommended that they utilise sick leave eligibility. The process of the certification or the positive testing of COVID-19 would come in thereafter,” Dindial explained.
“You qualify for pandemic leave if you have no sick leave eligibility. It is for those categories of workers who have nothing, for example, the short-term employees and those temporary workers who only have sick leave eligibility but do not currently have a provision for extended sick leave.”
He went on: “In the current circumstance, where schools will be closed in the next week, and for those parents who do not have a support system and are unable to come to work, pandemic leave would be applied to them. So it’s not sick leave, it’s not extension of sick leave, it’s not leave of absence on the grounds of public policy if you are a contract worker.
“Pandemic leave will be applied in this current circumstance in this week for all categories of workers who will not be coming to work because they have to take care of their children.”
Dindial said since pandemic leave is different from sick leave, different paperwork will be required.
“It’s not the same sick leave form. The CPO’s office will be issuing a circular, post Cabinet’s decision on the guidelines. I will have a retroactive date to consider, with effect from (today), to cover the period of any employee who does not come to work in the next week, in the first instance,” he said.
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Baptiste-Primus urged employers and employees of the public service, State enterprises and private sector to utilise the following guidelines:
-At this time it is not advised that children be allowed into workplaces, work facilities, inclusive of company vehicles or compounds, as they, too, need to be protected.
-All parents are encouraged to use their support systems in the first instance to take care of their children, to allow them to report for duty.
-Employers are encouraged to implement remote work policies where possible to minimise the need for employees with children to physically attend work.
-Where it is not possible for employees with children to work from home, recognised majority unions or employees and the employers are required to explore options of shift work, staggered hours of work and/or rostering.
-Where there are both parents in a family, one parent is encouraged to stay at home with the children while the other one reports for duty.
-Where alternative work arrangements cannot be made, the employee is to be allowed to stay at home with his/her children without being penalised by either disciplinary action or by non-payment of salary.
-Where discussions between the recognised majority unions or the employees and employers have failed to resolve the issue, either the employer or the recognised majority union, or the employee, can contact the Conciliation, Advisory and Advocacy Division at the Ministry of Labour at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 299-0300 EXT 2043 or 2124.
-Employees are advised that if you are not sick do not stay away from work.
-For the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers are required to implement pandemic leave provisions within their organisations in a compassionate manner which ensures business continuity while securing the national interest.
In light of the pandemic facing Trinidad and Tobago, officers who will be eligible for pandemic leave within the public service are as follows:
(a) public officer (permanent, temporary, monthly-paid or daily-rated)
(b) fixed-term contract employees
(c) short-term contract employees
(d) on-the-job trainees
(e) office-holders within the purview of the Salaries Review Commission whose office falls in the public service, such as top managers in the judiciary and legal services.