Protect health of 12,000 overseas J'can workers, urges trade unionist

Protect health of 12,000 overseas J'can workers, urges trade unionist

Senior staff reporter

Friday, March 20, 2020

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SENIOR trade unionist Vincent Morrison is calling on local authorities to safeguard the health of roughly 12,000 workers participating in overseas employment programmes accessed through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.

The call comes as the world continues to reel from the spread of the flu-like pandemic, the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

According to Morrison, the workers now overseas are part of hospitality and farming programmes in Canada and the United States, and some are in areas at the heart of the pandemic, such as Seattle in Washington. One hospitality sector worker yesterday told the Jamaica Observer that a group of about 200 of them now in Florida would be making their way home between next Monday and Tuesday. Efforts to get immediate confirmation from the labour ministry were unsuccessful.

“One area in the US, where the [pandemic] is very high, we have a lot of Jamaican workers in that area, and there are more Jamaican workers who are supposed to be going up for employment between July or August,” said Morrison. As of early yesterday afternoon Washington had 1,187 confirmed cases and 68 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

Morrison, who is president of the Union of Clerical, Administrative, and Supervisory Employees (UCASE), stressed that the farm work programme, which began in 1942, should be protected. He is urging the Ministry of Labour to act. “[The ministry needs to] ensure that every precaution, and all the best practices are put in place to ensure that not only the Jamaican workers now who are going up for employment, but also those who are up there and who will be coming back, all safeguards are taken to prevent the Jamaican workers from contracting this virus,” he said.

At the same time, he noted that there may be a silver lining on the horizon, as the season for farm workers is usually between July and October, and it is being posited by some experts that the virus could be contained by this summer. He noted that the bulk of farm workers will be returning home by the end of the year.

In the meantime, Morrison also issued a call to employers to find alternatives to laying off staff abruptly.

“I read... that one hotel chain out of Spain will be closing at least three of their properties across the country. I'm a little concerned about that. It's an international crisis and it can't be just that at the beginning of the crisis we make that decision to close. I don't know what arrangements are being put in place to assist the employees, but when I hear about closure in Jamaica it worries me because we do not have a social security system, that is, unemployment insurance that assists workers through this period of unemployment,” Morrison told the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday.

He suggested that business owners implement effective mechanisms, such as lay-offs, which will allow them to retain staff after the crisis passes. He said that a hotel, for example, having trained its staff, would benefit from keeping them on-board instead of rehiring and retraining.

“Having trained the staff you don't want to lose them, so during the lay-off period, rather than laying off indefinitely, you would have rotating periods. The opportunity can be taken to find some other jobs in the organisation where workers could do a number of things. We are hoping that the employers right across the country, not only in tourism, will recognise the gravity of the situation and rather than laying off workers instantly, find some arrangement that will assist workers,” he stated.

Morrison said a number of employers have indicated to UCASE that they want to work with employees to find the best solution in order to alleviate the hardship that could occur going forward.

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