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By Latrishka Thomas

“Accommodate, not discriminate” posited labour relations pundits recently, as they discussed concerns regarding the new normal of people working from home.

According to the General Secretary of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU), David Massiah, “the employer has the responsibility to provide a conducive environment for you to work in”.

As such, he said that employers must engage labour practitioners to navigate through the transition to working from home because “workers who are considered to be high risk cannot be sitting down feeling discriminated against”.

Principal of Employment Matters Caribbean, Carla-Anne Harris-Roper, identified certain factors that must be considered by employers when asking their staff to work from home.

“Where it is possible to do your work from home, there is a cost to that. There is a cost to me operating — my electricity bill, my internet bill — those things are gonna jump. What is going to be the situation in terms of am I going to be expected to absorb those costs?” she remarked.

She added that from the employer’s standpoint, “you need to have robust IT systems with firewalls and all of that in order to protect your client’s data, your very employee, from abuse by others”.

Furthermore, Harris-Roper who is also the Director of Legal Services in the Ministry of Labour in Jamaica, said that occupational safety and health is an essential element of the working from home dynamic.

“You are working in your home, you are not used to doing that for the most part and your home is usually – from a psychological standpoint – a different sphere that helps you in your coping with the pressures and stress of work.

“When that now becomes one and the same, how is it from that occupational wellness perspective are we going to take that into account?” she queried.

Meanwhile, Dr Jamille Broome, an employment and labour law consultant in Trinidad, stated that women are one of the most disadvantaged groups when it comes to working from home because “it’s going to lead to discrimination on the basis of marital status; it is going to lead to discrimination on the basis of sex [and] as well because we all know the majority of single parents are women”.

Dr Broome said that as it relates discrimination on the basis of powers, “employers are going to go with the more productive employees; the ones who don’t have family responsibilities and can give us the maximum amount of work from home”, so they might be allotted more working hours than the mothers may get.

And, from a socioeconomic perspective, while some mothers “can afford to have some kind of child care while they are working from home, some of those have no other option…because schools are closed,” he added.

The law lecturer therefore concluded that “we have to ensure that mothers are not left with the bad end of the stick in this entire pandemic”.

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