PSOJ’s COVIDCastJA Podcast: Educating Businesses In A Crisis

There are many aspects of everyday Jamaican life that have been restructured or changed completely since the emergence of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. One such aspect, which is of utmost importance to many, is job security. On the last episode of the COVIDCastJA: Business Podcast, members of the PSOJ’s Access to Finance Facilitation Panel (PSOJ AFFP) and their special guests delved into issues surrounding managers, workers and labour laws in the midst of the global pandemic. 
As COVID-19 continues to develop, the Government of Jamaica has begun to restrict movement around the island in an effort to flatten the curve. This has forced many businesses to cease or limit operations and ultimately alter the employment terms of their team. Episode three of the PSOJ AFFP’s podcast held on Thursday 9th April 2020, shed light on the impact of current labour laws on the rights of employers and employees.

COVIDCastJA hosts Rochelle Cameron, Chief PSOJ AFFP Project Executive and Nevada Powe, PSOJ AFFP Project Architect encouraged employers to engage in collaboration with their workers, open communication, and most importantly to show them compassion. They were joined by Carla-Anne Harris-Roper, Attorney at Law & Principal of, Employment Matters Caribbean and Michael McAnuff-Jones, Vice-President of The Human Resource Management Association of Jamaica (HRMAJ). Each of the guest presenters brought their unique insight into the way SME owners can navigate the legal and HR-related aspects of layoffs and redundancies. 
In an engaging presentation, Harris-Roper summarised the key elements of the various labour laws that should be considered by employers. She highlighted the differences between layoffs and redundancies and pointed out that employers may exercise their right to lay-off employees without pay to help the business through this difficult period. A lay-off is a temporary suspension of employment for a maximum duration of 120 days. She emphasised that employees who are “laid-off” are still considered employees.

If the lay-off period extends over 120 days, the employee has the right to ask to be made redundant and receive a redundancy payment once they have been employed for a period of 104 continuous weeks (approximately 2 years). The formula for redundancy payment is generally 2 weeks pay for every year up to the 10th year of employment and 3 weeks pay for each year from the 11th year onward. For a redundancy payment to be applicable there must be a “Redundancy situation” as defined in law and it must be done in consultation with the affected employees. Harris-Roper also explored important issues such as sick leave and vacation leave and the rights of various categories of workers.

McAnuff-Jones encouraged SMEs to engage their employees in open and honest discourse as this would be the best practice. He recommended that this be followed by documentation that reflects the layoff or new work agreements made. Additional recommendations included a charge to SMEs to think of dynamic ways of keeping their staff employed such as job rotation, job sharing and remote working,

The PSOJ AFFP has also circulated some guidelines to SMEs regarding the management of the labour force during the pandemic.

The document makes several recommendations to SMEs including closing the business completely, considering parting gifts to ease the burden such as food or inventory in the company’s supply; If employees are working remotely and the utility bills of the business decrease, take into consideration the increased utility usage of employees at home and consider providing subsidies, where possible; If the business is still operative, consider the possibility of providing worker transportation to and from work (even just for the most vulnerable if not for everyone); providing adequate PPE (personal protective equipment) on the job for staff who come into direct contact with the public, vulnerable staff or staff members who live with and care for vulnerable people.

This dialogue, and the others to come, form a part of the PSOJ AFFP’s mandate to equip SMEs with the relevant resources to improve their business operations, for a more productive economy. To this end, the work of the PSOJ AFFP started in July 2019 and has birthed the collaboration of all the players in the SME ecosystem to support the growth of the sector through revised products, programmes and policies. These efforts continue as episode four of COVIDCastJA: Business will cover the government’s new CARE Programme to aid those most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.