Representatives of employers, employees and workers’ unions and other concerned stakeholders yesterday morning came together to discuss the quarantine and isolation leave in regards to abuses by people who are close contact as well as the 13th month pay policy.

This was made possible during a consultation meeting organised by the employment department in the Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs, at the Nayopi conference and business centre, KB Emporium Building, Providence.

The meeting was organised to address the issue of absence from work as a result of people being quarantined and placed in isolation for testing positive for Covid-19 or are close contact to those who have tested positive for Covid-19. This is irrespective if they have been vaccinated or not.

A policy paper prepared by the employment department says that people who are close contact should pay back the minimum five daysspent in quarantine, either through their annual leave or salary cut, upon being diagnosed as being negative for Covid-19. This does not apply for workers who test positive.The maximum quarantine days for a person who has tested positive for Covid-19 is14 days.

The discussions followcomplaints from businesses as well as enquiries from the media with regards to workers who are refusing to take Covid-19 vaccines or whether employers can force workers to take the vaccine, especially those infected with the virus. This with the aim of limiting the impact on their businesses in terms of paying for employees’ absences from work as a result of the quarantine special leave.

In addition to the above, the department of employment has alsoreceived allegations of cases of abuse of self-isolation or collusion by friends and family members of the close contact system which is also causing major loses to businesses as well as affecting government operations.

It has also been found that the challengesbeing faced by working parents as a result of closure of schools due to Covid-19 andthose who take care of their children who have been in contact with positive cases in schools, needto be addressed as well.

The World Health Organisation defines a close contact as someone who was within two metres of an infected person for at least 15 minutes within a 24-hour period starting from two days before the onset of the illness (or, for asymptomatic cases two days prior to positive specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.

As a matter of policy guidance, the Cabinet approved for the annual leave regulations to be amended in order to allow employers to deduct the days an employee spends in quarantineafter having been declared as close contact of a Covid-19 positive personfrom the worker’s annual leave entitlement.

Following instructions from the Cabinet, the aimof the meeting was for the department of employment to get the views and recommendations from stakeholders before going back to Cabinetwith proposed amendments to the law. 

Yesterday’s discussionwas led by the principal secretary for employment, Jules Baker assisted by the director general for labour relations, Steve Monnaie and the director for industrial relations, Alda Aumeerudy.

Apart from discussing the quarantine and isolation leave policy, the representatives from the General Employer Trade Union of Seychelles (Getus), the Seychelles Federation of Workers’ Union (SFWU), Seychelles Labour Union (SLU), United Workers Seychelles (UWS) and the Seychelles Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI), also discussed the 13th month pay for the year 2021 and whether to continue with the suspension of the policy for the year 2021.

According to the Employment Act 2016, the 13th month pay is mandatory for a worker who qualifies. It is due on December 31 of the corresponding yearand payable before January 31 the following year. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic impacting on the economy, many businesses and self-employed individuals applied under the Financial Assistance for Job Retention (FA4JR) for payment of salaries from April 2020 to March 2021, indicating that many will not be able to comply with the legal obligations to pay a 13th month salary this year.

Following the discussions, the mutual consensus with regards to the quarantine and isolation leave policy, was that there should be a tri-partite ‒employees, employers and government-shared responsibility on the matter.

“We as a union, we say that if there are abuses with regards to the quarantine and isolation leave policy. There should be a line drawn between the worker making the abuses and those who are genuine. The annual leave is very precious for a worker and should not be taken away if it is not their fault that they’ve been a close contact. The work places should have more effective standard operating procedures (SOPs) to detect abuses among workers. We also want to tell the workers to take their responsibility. Now is not the time for them to abuse the system and to play sick when they are really not sick,” said Antoine Robinson, secretary general of the SFWU.

“It has always been the employers who take responsibility with regards to the special leave and at this stage, with regards to some abuses, it is high time that workers get to take some responsibility oftheir work due to the pandemic,” Donald Monnaie, the chairman of Getus, said.

The participants also raised concerns on the absence of representatives from the Ministry of Health during the discussion, the main body responsible for disclosing close contacts.

With regards to the 13th month salary, the participants agreed that as businesses are still struggling, the suspension of the salaryshould continuelike in 2020 but businesses that are in a position to reward their workers either with the 13th month pay or through othermeans,can do so.

Although the SCCI requested and was granted a week until Monday August 16 to consult its 600 members with regards to the suspension of the 13thmonth salary, its representative, Maria Stravens said “businesses are not on their feet as of yet for them to pay the 13thmonth salary. But I think if some of them can afford, they should do so. You need to recognise workers who have worked hard and contributed to the wellbeing of the organisation.”

“If employers are able to pay their employees a 13th month salary, we would like to encourage them to do so but for those who cannot make the payment, government as the guardian of its citizens should step in and see if it can do something to help,”remarked SLU's secretary general, Edwards Anacoura.

As for UWS president Laurent Moumou he said: “I think that workerswho have worked hard and given their best, are entitled to a 13th month salary. It is in the law, and we encourage government to do its maximum to ensure that those workers do get their salary. We want both employers and employees to come out as winners and not for one to win and the other to lose.”

Patrick Joubert