Lockdown period should not be treated as vacation period

by Linda Straker

  • Grenada’s labour law silent about action of companies to workers during a public health pandemic
  • Several companies with unionised workers are requesting first period of lockdown treated as vacation

André Lewis, the labour movement representative in the Upper House, thinks it’s unfair that several companies with unionised workers are requesting employees to treat the first period of the lockdown as vacation time, so they can receive a salary at the end of April.

“There are a number of companies that even if they are going through a tight period at this moment, this is not the first time they are into business. They could have had very good years, very, very good years over the past 5, 10 years,” Lewis said. He was addressing last week Friday’s special sitting of the Senate in which Members of Parliament gave approval to the stimulus package as announced in early March, and extended the State of Emergency for a period not exceeding 6 months.

He said that some of these companies have recorded growth and profit over the years and the profit can be used to sustain the companies, because shareholders have already made a return on investment. “10 years of constant growth, 10 years of meeting their targets, 10 years without experiencing losses. And therefore, we do not think it is fair, taking into account the sacrifices that are required and the unknown, that the first thing that we ask all workers to do, is to utilise their vacation.”

Lewis is also the President General of the Grenada Technical and Allied Workers Union (GTAWU).

Grenada declared a limited State of Emergency on 25 March, and entered a 21-day lockdown as part of physical distancing measures aimed at reducing the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic that has infected millions and killed thousands worldwide. At present, there is no cure and because of the contagion is spread via droplet from person to person, several countries around the world have entered a period of lockdown to control the spread.

Lewis advises that discussion should take place between the employer and each employee before the management of a company announces such a mandatory order. “We are in April. Why the first thing that appears — and we have had that request from a number of companies, our union and the TUC have discussed that matter — that these companies that we know have been doing well in the past and in most instances, the shareholders would have already received back the investment they could have made over the years — why is it in the first instance that we are asking them, the employees to take their vacation,” he questioned.

“We are requesting and saying that in most instances this period of the lockdown ought to be absorbed by the companies, especially by the companies that could have performed well over the past years,” he added, while applauding the government for offering payroll support to workers in the hotel and the other companies in the hospitality sector.

Lewis used the opportunity in parliament to call for support to other workers. “We are also identifying with the call that there are other workers, in the construction sector; there are other workers who are in need. We cannot understand why is it that because we are now in a period where the hotel industry, in particular — it is certain that the level of occupancy will not be there because our borders are closed — why is that the first request is for the employees to use their vacation.”

Besides the decision by some companies to treat the lockdown as vacation, there are non-unionised workers who have been laid off, while other companies are offering reduced salaries for the month of April. Grenada’s labour law is silent about the action of companies to workers whenever there is public health pandemic.

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