Please don't leave COVID-19 protection up to employer discretionFriday, May 22, 2020
Having been in quarantine for over two months, I am particularly grateful that we should start to see some normality return as we head back to the physical workplace come the beginning of June.
I also want to use this opportunity to thank the Government of Jamaica which, in my opinion, has done a good job in dealing with the foreseeable consequences of this COVID-19 pandemic.
I do have an urgent concern which I am asking the Government to fully consider when drafting the new workplace protocol with the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ).
I work in a fairly small building with a company whose revenue, like many others, has been negatively impacted by the novel coronavirus. So I understand that the safety measures being put in place for staff must be within reasonable cost.
It is, however, unacceptable that employers use this as a reason for doing only the bare minimum required by law, and do not use discretion to effect adequate protective measures, given the conditions in which their employees must operate.
The managers at my workplace each have their own partitioned offices; however, the remaining staff complement share small open areas. In most cases, our desks are attached together due to the space limitations. We have cases of workers who suffer from severe allergies, which cause them to sneeze quite frequently, along with individuals who have persistent coughs. However, because they are only human, they do not always remember, or are not always able to cover their mouths in time. We jokingly refer to our office space as “the flu conduit”, since very often when one person gets sick the majority of the others do too.
Recently, a group of us made contact with our superiors as well as the company's general manager about the issue and presented some possible solutions, including the installation of cost-effective plastic screens alongside the top edges of closely positioned desks. Similar screens are now in place at the cashier counters of several supermarkets. Our appeals have been flatly refused, and we now expect to return to the office building and to have to work in the same close quarters as before, without sufficient protection.
I, therefore, make this appeal to the Government and PSOJ on behalf of my co-workers and other employees in a similar situation: As we eagerly anticipate going back to work, please make it mandatory for employers to have at least six feet of space between workstations, or to install adequate protective barriers where space is limited. Otherwise, the unfortunate truth is that some decision-makers who remain unaffected in their own partitioned offices will not give such thought to the safety of their own staff.
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