With the second phase of the gradual reopening of the T&T economy taking place this week and the Ministry of Health celebrating the fact that there are now no COVID-positive patients in the public health care system, this country seems well on the way to implementing phase three of the plan to fully reopen.
In Phase Three the country’s entire public service is supposed to return to work.
Also during this phase, all private-sector construction is earmarked to resume, along with public transportation operations being allowed to increase to 75 per cent capacity.
The phase was originally supposed to start June 7.
But with the early reopening of Phase Two, this timetable may be amended.
And as more businesses prepare to reopen their doors the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has stated that return to work policies need to be informed by a human-centred approach that puts peoples’ rights at the heart of economic, social and environmental policies.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the ILO issued a joint report stating that it is critical to ensure that security and health policies are put in at work post-COVID-19.
ECLAC and the ILO stated that having those policies in place would require the joint administration of workplace safety and health, with the participation of employers and workers, as the foundation for policies to return to work.
“Social dialogue—bringing together governments, workers’ and employers’ organisations—will be critical in creating the effective policies and trust needed for a safe return to work,” the ILO guidance note stated.
The note draws on specialist ILO guidance documents and International Labour Standards, which provide a normative framework for creating a safe return to work.
The document stresses that policy guidance should be embedded into national Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) systems, as these create the basis for safe workplace environments.
The ILO said the guidance can contribute to a culture of continuous, country-level improvement, in administration, institutions, laws and regulations, labour inspections, information gathering, and other areas.
“Workers must feel safe at their workplaces, both from risks directly related to COVID-19, and indirect risks, including psychosocial issues and ergonomic risks related to working in awkward positions or with poor facilities when working from home,” the guidelines stated.
“They should have the right to remove themselves from any situation ‘which they have reasonable justification to believe presents an imminent and serious danger to their life or health’, and ‘shall be protected from any undue consequences,” it stated.
The document proposed that each specific work setting, job or group of jobs should be assessed before returning to work and that preventive measures should be implemented to ensure the safety and health of all workers according to a hierarchy of controls.
“For workers staying at home, the risk of infection in a work context can be eliminated; for all workers returning to workplaces, priority should be given to options that substitute hazardous situations for less hazardous ones, such as organising virtual instead of physical meetings,” it stated.
“When this is not possible a mix of engineering and organisational control measures will usually be required to prevent contagion, the specific measures to implement are specific to each workplace, but may consist of installing physical barriers such as clear plastic sneeze guards, improving ventilation, or adopting flexible working hours, in addition to cleaning and hygiene practices.
“The guidelines also recall that the use of appropriate personal protective equipment may be required to complement other measures, in particular for the most hazardous occupations, and that this equipment should be provided without cost to workers,” the ILO stated.
The ILO stated that the needs of workers at higher risk of severe illness should be taken into account; including older workers and pregnant workers.
“Unsafe work practices anywhere are a threat to both health and sustainable business, everywhere. So, before returning to work, workers must be confident that they will not be exposed to undue risks,” said Deborah Greenfield, ILO’s deputy director-general for Policy.
“And, to help enterprises and economies get going as soon as possible, workers will need to cooperate with these new measures. This means that social dialogue will be particularly important because it is the most effective way to feed information and views into policies and actions, so creating the best chance for a swift and balanced recovery,” she said.
The ILO’s director-general, Guy Ryder said with the war against COVID-19 still to be won, it “has become commonplace that what awaits us after victory is a ‘new normal’ in the way society is organised and the way we will work.”This is hardly reassuring,” he said.
“Because nobody seems able to say what the new normal will be. Because the message is that it will be dictated by the constraints imposed by the pandemic rather than our choices and preferences. And because we’ve heard it before.
“The mantra which provided the mood music of the crash of 2008-2009 was that once the vaccine to the virus of financial excess had been developed and applied, the global economy would be safer, fairer, more sustainable. But that didn’t happen.
“The old normal was restored with a vengeance and those on the lower echelons of labour markets found themselves even further behind,” Ryder said.
“Now is the time to look more closely at this new normal, and start on the task of making it a better normal, not so much for those who already have much, but for those who so obviously have too little,” he said.
Ryder said by May Day next year he hopes that the pressing emergency of COVID-19 will be behind us.
“But we will have before us the task of building a future of work which tackles the injustices that the pandemic has highlighted, together with the permanent and no longer postponable challenges of climate, digital and demographic transition. This is what defines the better normal that has to be the lasting legacy of the global health emergency of 2020,” he said.