AMCHAM T&T Supports Navigating HR & IR Issues During the Pandemic
Navigating Human Resource Management strategies and Industrial Relations practices will be essential for business operations once work restrictions are lifted due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In a Webinar hosted by AMCHAM T&T on “Navigating HR & IR Issues During the Pandemic", Chief Executive Officer, Nirad Tewarie, said, "Business will have to address both the legal obligations of employers on issues relating to employee leave, employer’s obligation with work from home policies and best practice on how companies can engage with their unions and employees during this period.”
“It’s important that companies employ compassionate solutions that will help them to effectively engage with their employees so that their concerns are addressed while maintaining business continuity during these uncertain times.”
Catherine Ramnarine, Partner - M. Hamel Smith & Co said the Covid-19 pandemic has presented new challenges for employers particularly as it relates to H/R policies on sick leave, working from home, and dealing with a downturn in business. “Much of our employment requirements are determined, not by legislation or regulation, but by the principles of ‘good industrial relations practice’. These principles are not codified, but instead must be gleaned from decisions of our Industrial Court.”
Even though the legislative provisions governing sick leave in Trinidad and Tobago are limited, Ramnarine says employers should check the employment contracts, policies, and collective agreements. “In the current situation, good industrial relations practice may require employers to apply those provisions more flexibly, reasonably and compassionately than they would during normal business operations,” she said.
Meanwhile, quarantine leave or time off to stay home with children may not expressly qualify as ‘sick leave’ under the employment contract, policy, or collective agreement. “It is likely to be considered a breach of good industrial relations practice to penalise employees by non-payment of salary - at least in the short term if an employee is mandated or recommended by health officials to stay away from work,” says Ramnarine.
With regard to the controversial issue of Pandemic Leave, Ramnarine says, “there is no express legal obligation on employers to provide pandemic leave. However, employers do still have a general obligation to treat with requests for leave, flexibly, reasonably and compassionately, while balancing the operational, business and financial challenges of the current situation.”
When dealing with the downturn in business from the COVID-19 pandemic, employers should ideally consult with its employees and obtain their agreement to utilise their vacation leave. “Alternatives like the utilisation of vacation leave should be considered before implementing more drastic measures such as salary cuts and a reduction in paid working hours.”
“The unilateral imposition of no-pay leave MAY be considered a repudiatory breach of the employment contract and conduct deemed to be harsh, oppressive or contrary to the principles of good industrial relations practice. However, the Industrial Court has recognised temporary lay-offs as a valid industrial relations practice."
Ian John, CEO of Massy Technologies InfoCom says businesses must look beyond performance management and pay more attention to productivity. “So, we are now in the era where we are no longer managing staff’s time, as we say performance is not managing staff time but how do we manage productivity.”
“Many managers in organizations are finding out, holding an employee accountable/responsible for a set of deliverables but the set of deliverables that this employee has to deliver is based on a set of inputs, factors, variables, some of which may no longer be available to that employee given the current situation.”
John says companies must ensure that employees who are working from home are provided with the required IT infrastructure, HSE regulations, documented policies and processes and clear expectations of what is required of them during this situation.
Teresa White, Group HR Director - ANSA McAL Limited spoke about her Group’s plans and policies that were implemented following the first reported case of COVID-19 in T&T.
She said ANSA McAL implemented work from home policies for all their non-essential staff and issued a clear set of deliverables and expectations. She advised that any performance managing work from home policy should be clearly articulated with established rules and expectations and have a performance objective-setting and assessment measures.
During the period where employees were working from home, she said meetings were set up between the ANSA McAL leadership team and the union executives, and the communication channels were open between the executive team and employees. She noted that the Group had also ramped up its Corporate Social Responsibility activities. “We are aware of the fact that ANSA McAL is a major private sector profit generator and, therefore, we have an obligation to our communities to provide support where we can at this time.”
The “Navigating HR & IR Issues During the Pandemic” is one of a series of webinars that was envisaged and designed by AMCHAM T&T, as a means to provide the necessary tools to help companies adjust to the disruption caused to business by the global pandemic. AMCHAM T&T remains strongly committed to our members and the wider business community as we continue to work on your behalf through these challenging times.
For further questions or comments please contact: Nirad Tewarie, CEO AMCHAM T&T at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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