JEF, NWU have work-from-home issuesSunday, March 07, 2021
BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
The Jamaica Employers Federation (JEF) is concerned about what it considers a systemic disparity in the relatively small number of workers in Jamaica's labour force who are able to work from home, compared to the majority of workers for whom it is not an option.
Looking at labour force statistics across seven occupational groups, a JEF survey conducted since the start of the pandemic has found that only 26 per cent of the workers across major industries are able to work remotely.
These occupational groups included senior officials and technicians, as well as clerks, of which the survey found that the majority, or 75 and 60 per cent, respectively, were able to carry out their functions remotely.
Of the five other occupational groups, however, the survey found that close to 80 per cent, essential workers, whose jobs required them working on site.
Persons employed as service workers, wholesale, shop and market sales worker, were classified as essential workers, with only 10 per cent having the ability to work from home.
Skilled agricultural and fishery workers, as well as plant and machine operators and assemblers were also classified as essential workers. So too were craft and related trades workers, as well as persons with elementary occupations such as street vendors, office attendants and domestic helpers.
The survey concluded that for the bulk of employed persons in the labour force by occupational group work from home would not apply.
JEF President David Wan, who disclosed the findings in an interview with the Jamaica Observer last week, argued that for many of these workers, the pandemic has presented a dilemma of choosing to either leave their jobs or continue functioning in their place of work under the public health safety concerns.
“Based on the research we did, close to 80 per cent of the workforce are in essential service occupations. If you look in the hotel industry, those workers can't work from home. In the manufacturing industry, you find that only a manager can work from home, while for the workers on the floor who have to operate machinery and so on, working from home is not possible.
“A lot of jobs are in retail and you have a lot of customer contact. This works against the whole work-from-home policy because if the majority workers make up the essential service industries, then for a lot of these people working from home would mean not getting any pay. It is something we haven't really talked about, the fact that working at home for a lot of employed persons means no pay because if they don't go to a physical place of work, then they are not making any money,” said Wan.
“On the other hand, industries like the financial sector, for example, with big banks like NCB that has come out publicly to say 60 per cent of their employees are working remotely, work from home will apply. Another large financial company that I spoke with privately also reported between 15 to 20 per cent of their staff working from home. And it varies from industry to industry,” the JEF head further stated.
The findings were made utilising data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN), looking at the overall labour force by occupational groups.
According to STATIN data, close 50 per cent of the overall labour force (ie 1,293,600 as of October 2020) consists of people working in essential service industries, namely manufacturing, agriculture and fishery, wholesale and retail trade, and accommodation and food service activities.
Last Sunday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced new COVID-19 measures as the country continues to grapple with a spike in the number of confirmed cases. As of Friday, the country recorded 332 new confirmed cases. To date, there have been 24,776 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 443 deaths.
In addition to a strict work-from-home order for public sector workers, the revised COVID-19 measures announced last Sunday included a stay-at-home order for people aged 60 years and older.
Speaking with the Sunday Observer, acting president of the National Workers' Union, Kirk Fletcher, raised concern that people aged 60 and over who are employed and for whom stay-at-home orders apply would eliminate their means of income.
“There is an issue with the orders that the Government has put out in terms of the age 60 and over, which I don't think is fair to either worker or the employer because since that is a mandate, when the employer decides not to pay the worker, who bears that liability? And if they are able to go to work and they get caught going, who bears that responsibility of the fine and or imprisonment.
“Especially for the persons who are 60 years and older, who based on their functions, definitely cannot work from home, these persons are domestic helpers and office attendants, persons who work in factories.
“I don't think the stay-at-home order for those persons sufficiently takes into the consideration the implications of working from home, not for the employer and worse for the employee.
“Based on how our workforce functions, it is difficult for a lot of persons to work from home. The others that are able to carry out their functions from home they face other situations which employers are not readily willing to compensate for. There is the additional cost of electricity, the cost of their Internet or data,” said Fletcher.
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