Call centre dilemma prompts call for passage of OSHASaturday, April 18, 2020
BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
THE alarming number of COVID-19 cases from one call centre in the island has brought into sharp focus the need for Parliament to swiftly promulgate the new Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), which has been languishing between Administrations for the better part of three decades, according to Vincent Morrison.
Morrison, head of the Union of Clerical Administrative and Supervisory Employees (UCASE), said the union will be addressing the case afresh for the OSHA to be promulgated.
The Bill has been before a joint select committee (JSC) of Parliament for the past several months. With parliamentary committee meetings becoming less frequent in light of the COVID-19 crisis, there could be further delay in the proceedings of that JSC, and its recommendations to Parliament.
“We are going to demand of the Government that the Act be promulgated before the end of this session of Parliament. It is urgent, especially in this time of this massive disease that we are experiencing. This Act has been lingering between the ministries responsible and Parliament for well over 30-odd years. Just like how we were able to fast-track a number of measures for the IMF arrangements, similar attention needs to be given to the OSHA,” Morrison argued in an interview with the Jamaica Observer this week as reports continued to emerge of a mass infection of staff at the Alorica call centre in Portmore, St Catherine.
So far there are 52 positive cases from the centre, which has been ordered shut. There are fears that the virus could have been transmitted far and wide, stemming from those infections.
On Wednesday another BPO, Sutherland Global, said it had one possible COVID-19 case on its team, as the person was a close contact of someone at Alorica who tested positive. The company advised staff that it would close the South Camp Road facility until further notice, although not asked by the Government to do so.
Morrison said extra precautions must be taken at this time to ensure that the problem, which emerged at the Portmore outfit, does not happen across other business process outsourcing (BPO) centres.
“Based on how the worker stations are configured, if you don't have adequate PPEs in place you will have problems,” he said.
According to the trade unionist, he had written to Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton just before the first case of COVID-19 was announced, requesting a meeting to discuss concerns among the groups represented by the UCASE, but has not received a response up to this time.
“We are very upset about this because the trade unions, when it comes to health and safety in this country, has a tremendous role to pay,” he stated.
The Bustamante Industrial Trade Union [BITU] is also calling on the Government to conduct a full review into the working environment at BPO operations across the island.
In a statement, BITU president and Government Senator Kavan Gayle said that while the majority of these companies appear to follow existing protocols, there are some which pay little attention to the rules, and therefore cannot be given the same protection as those that are compliant.
He said the impact of COVID-19 should encourage Jamaican employers and workers to admit that there is need for a proper working environment in order to protect BPO and similar-type workers from health risks.
Furthermore, he said the JSC which is reviewing the OSHA should now be guided to place emphasis in its deliberations on a legislative approach to dealing with pandemics of this nature.
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