Two groundsmen at the Lady Hochoy Home South have been served suspension notices without pay for refusing to report for duty during the Government's Stay-at-Home order as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Carlos Garcia and Vishnu Rama were given their suspension letters on Friday by the home’s superintendent/manager Antoinette Fahey.
The letter stated: "This letter serves to inform you that due to your decision to not report for duty at the above-mentioned home from 1st to the 15th of April 2020, you have been temporarily suspended without pay until further notice."
Both men said they were following Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s call to self-quarantine and for non-essential workers, which they consider themselves to be, to stay at home.
However, they said they were called into a meeting before being given the suspension notices by Fahey, handed their salaries for the month of March and told that the stay-at-home orders did not include them and they are expected to come to work.
Garcia, 53 and Rama, 48, have been permanently employed at the home for 15 and 27 years respectively.
Rama said before he worked as a groundsman, he worked at the home as a security officer for six years.
They said their primary duties as groundsmen at the home are to maintain the grounds, cut the grass and clear the drainage. However, they said the home, has been closed since the COVID-19 outbreak
Rama said, "We are willing to go to work, but when we study our health and our family’s health to risking our life to come out to cut grass on the compound, our family was more important. We were victimised because we were following the Prime Minister’s call to implement the law. We would fall under the non-essential workers' category.
“We are calling on the Prime Minister, Minister Baptiste-Primus and National Security Minister Stuart Young to bring justification if they can to Sister Antoinette's decisions to suspend us.
Rama’s wife, Cleo, said, “We called the consolation unit in Ministry of Labor, Social Development office who put us on to the Prime Minister’s office and no answers.”
Cleo said the order to self-quarantine came from the “law of the land" and asked why they should be penalised for it.
"They were simply following the leaders of the country and the choice to do the safe thing.”
Rama said they were paid for the month of March and told if they do not report to work they will not be paid for two weeks in April. They were also ordered to leave their keys. Rama lives at St Croix Road, Princes Town, with his wife and his son who is also a UTT student. He also takes care of his sickly 75-year-old mother who lives next door.
Garcia, of Williamsville, said he was the sole breadwinner in the family and has to take care of his wife, two children and his 80-year-old mother.
The men said Fahey also restructured their work hours to a 10 pm to 6 am shift.
Attempts to reach Fahey on her cell phone and the home’s landline were unsuccessful.
Minister has no concrete info on layoffs
Minister of Labour Jennifer Baptiste-Primus, speaking to Guardian Media on Thursday before this incident occurred, said “I do not have those statistics (the number of people who are now on the breadline since the start of COVID-19 restrictions). Maybe the Central Statistical Office may have that. Usually, we get statistics of people who were retrenched but we have no statistics of anyone being retrenched over the past two weeks.
"I don’t have any concrete information on layoffs. I don’t have any official report just anecdotal information of instances that have reached me through the grapevine. Nothing that I can say to verify that people have been laid off without pay."