THE Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) says it is in the best interest of the developing business process outsourcing (BPO) industry that the minimum standards proposed by trade unions globally are observed by the local sector.
According to the president of the union, Senator Kavan Gayle, the BITU’s main interest in the current review of the sector is basically that: (1) the minimum standards agreed to by trade unions on a global level should be taken into consideration; and, (2) that the Government should insist that every effort be made by the companies to ensure that these basic standards provide the foundation on which the industry is built.
“The BITU will not sit back and accept that investors in the industry be lured by the absence of basic minimums for these workers, especially in the rapid expansion of BPOs in Jamaica, and the rapidly expanding number of employees, especially millennials who lack a clear understanding of labour relations,” Senator Gayle told the Jamaica Observer.
“We think that the interceding novel coronavirus disease and the tremendous health challenges that it has created for vulnerable societies like Jamaica has provided a glorious opportunity to review labour relations in the sector, especially in terms of the health challenges that have arisen, and establish protocols on which its growth and development can continue in the best interest of the Jamaicans and the Jamaican economy,” he added.
He said that trade unions have patiently watched the development of the sector and have given their blessings to the contribution the sector has been making to the economy, including the taxes paid into the Consolidated Fund and the reduction of unemployment to 7.2 per cent, the lowest in Jamaica’s history.
However, he said that the revelations emerging from the current setback suggest that all is not well in terms of the working environment at the call centres, therefore global minimum standards must not only be set, but there must be consistent oversight to ensure that they are met.
“It is in that light that the BITU recently approach its international partners in the global community to seek guidance on basic minimum rights of these workers,” Senator Gayle added.
He said that the BITU has held extensive discussions with its international partners at the UNI Global Union, which is based in Nyon, Switzerland, and represents more than 20 million workers from over 150 countries, in the fastest growing sectors in world skills and services.
He said that it is expected that a total of 90 per cent of new jobs are expected to be in these sectors in the next decade. Therefore, UNI and its affiliates, in all regions, must be driven by the responsibility to ensure these jobs are decent and that the workers’ rights are protected.
One of the areas they looked at was the minimum measures to protect call centres, sometimes referred to as contact centres, and it was agreed that in terms of the need to prioritise dialogue and collective bargaining employers should engage trade unions and worker representatives to agree on contingency plans to protect workers from coronavirus exposure, respond to cases identified among the workforce, and address the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on jobs and income.
In terms of paid leave and income preservation, employers were asked to implement guarantees that all employees impacted by coronavirus, whether from contracting COVID-19, exposure that requires self-quarantine, or high-risk health conditions preventing them from attending work, should maintain their employment and continue to receive their salaries through paid leave. This, it was agreed, is particularly important in countries where workers have inadequate or no legally mandated paid leave.
He said that the unions believe that there was always a need for immediate actions to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus throughout call centre operations, which would alter normal operations, and have made the following suggestions:
* Identify accounts that qualify as essential services, or which have privacy and data protection requirements that require work to be performed on-site.
* For accounts that do not qualify as essential services, use paid leave, remote work, and limited on-site staff to maintain the workforce and meet the service demands of clients.
For on-site work, every contact centre, the unions said, should comply with at least the following measures:
* Prohibit hot-desking, a practice in which workers occupy any available workstation at the start of each shift.
* Provide individually assigned workstations to each employee, including individual headsets and keyboards.
* Separate workstations to comply with World Health Organization and local health authorities’ recommendations on social distancing.
* Conduct thorough hospital-grade cleaning between shifts and regularly disinfect shared spaces, such as cafeterias, restrooms throughout every shift.
In addition, Gayle said when COVID-19 cases are detected on the worksite, the company must:
* Halt all operations when cases are detected to complete hospital-grade disinfection of the facilities.
* All workers who are infected with COVID-19, or who have had any contact with infected people, including colleagues, in the previous two weeks should be quarantined for 14 days.
* Workers impacted by interruptions of the operations should receive full salary payment during the interruption period.
* In emergency cases, to reduce the spread of infection, engage in temporary closures with full salary payment, for a specific time period.
* Work with local public health and labour authorities to ensure compliance with inspections and certification to resume on-site work.
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