STATEMENT BY THE MINISTER FOR NATURAL RESOURCES, LABOUR AND IMMIGRATION,
HONOURABLE VINCENT WHEATLEY
THURSDAY, 19 MARCH, 2020
LABOUR AND IMMIGRATION PREPARATIONS FOR COVID-19
A pleasant good day to all Virgin Islanders and Residents of the Territory.
By now we are all aware that the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared there is a global pandemic—the COVID-19. This form of the Coronavirus is affecting lives, communities, and the world economy.
Thankfully, and I am grateful to God that to date we have had no confirmed cases in the British Virgin Islands.
I would encourage all of us to continue to petition God for favour that He will protect our people and our Territory—the Virgin Islands.
But we all know that faith without work is dead.
Work in the sense that you the people of this Territory have a responsibility to practice social distancing, regular handwashing, avoid touching the face, and covering your mouth when coughing and sneezing.
Also, if anyone feels sick, do not go to the doctor. Instead, call the medical hotline at 852-7650 so that you can get the appropriate treatment and to protect others.
I also mean work in the sense that your Government will continue to put in place the necessary precautionary and preventative measures focused only on the health and safety of you the people of the Virgin Islands and in turn this Territory.
I continue to pledge my commitment to the Minister for Health and Social Development and his team at the Health Emergency Operations Centre for navigating us through yet another unprecedented event that has altered the way we greet each other.
You would be now aware that one of the preventative actions Cabinet has put in place to safeguard the staff and students of all educational institutions in the Territory is the mandatory closing of all private and public schools, pre-schools, day care centres and extra-curricular activities with effect from Thursday, 19th March, 2020 until Friday 3rd April, 2020. The Minister for Education would have announced on Wednesday, 18 March.
With this in mind, it is recognised that there are parents who are also workers who are faced with the question of what to do with respect to the children who will be out of schools; and there are employers who will be faced with requests from employees to bring their children to work or stay at home.
In addressing with this situation at the workplace, employers and employees in the public service and private sector are advised to adhere to these following guidelines:
- At this time, it is not advised that children be allowed into workplaces and work facilities, inclusive of company vehicles or compounds, as they too have the need to be protected. Company vehicles should be sanitised regularly at the responsibility of the company. Company vehicles should not carry any unauthorised persons.
- In order to take care of their children, all parents are encouraged to use their support systems, in the first instance, to allow them to report for duty.
- Employers are encouraged to implement remote work policies where possible, to minimise the need for employees with children to physically attend work.
- Where it is not possible for all employees with children to work from home, employees and their employers are required to explore options of shift work, staggered hours of work, and/or rostering.
- Where there are both parents in a family, one parent is encouraged to stay at home with the children, while the other one reports for duty.
- Where alternative work arrangements cannot be made, the employer should consider allowing the employee to stay at home with his or her children without being penalised by either disciplinary action or by nonpayment of salary.
- Where discussions between employees and employers have failed to resolve the issue, the employee can contact the Department of Labour and Workforce Development at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 284-468-4707, or 284-468-4708.
- Employees are advised; if they are not sick, not to stay away from work. For the duration of the COVID19 pandemic, employers are required to implement pandemic leave provisions within their organisations in a compassionate manner, which ensures business continuity, while securing the national interest.
Employers are encouraged to develop appropriate arrangements to ensure business continuity during this pandemic. It is their legal duty to stay in accordance with the proper health and safety measures at the workplace.
Section 107 of the Labour Code 2010 speaks to employers having the option to temporarily lay off employees for a period of three (3) months, after that period an employer either has to return the employee to work or terminate the employee and give a severance package.
However, the Department of Labour and Workforce Development is working on an extension of this period for particular industries affected by COVID19 on a case-by-case basis to secure jobs for the people of the Virgin Islands.
Special provisions are also being made for elderly employees as they are the most at risk of COVID19. Vulnerable groups include elderly persons (60+), children, pregnant women, disabled persons and persons with underlying and chronic health conditions:
- chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or bronchitis, chronic heart disease, such as heart failure; chronic kidney disease, chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis; chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, diabetes, problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease; a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS.
I will now briefly turn to what we are doing in the Department of Immigration.
The Department is working on extending work permits on a case-by-case basis, until those persons can return to work.
The Department is also granting access into the Territory for specialised services critical to COVID-19. Once again, this will be done on a case-by-case basis.
Ladies and gentlemen, workers, employers, and citizens of the British Virgin Islands, let us continue to work together to successfully overcome the challenges of this time.
Let us support and encourage each other.
Let us all continue to follow the advice that is coming to us from the health professionals.
I believe that we can and we will stop the COVID-19 from reaching our shores.
It takes preparation and all of us doing our part to make a big difference.
In closing, once again I encourage everyone to boost your immunity, practice good hygiene, and good social spacing.
I will continue to update you on what is happening in the sector as we go forward.