Aisha is on no-pay leave from her bank job until September.
And she hopes that it will not have to be extended any longer than that.
“I had no other choice but to do this,” Aisha told Guardian Media.
The reason why Aisha says she has no other choice but to utilise sick leave is because she has already exhausted all of her vacation and sick leave entitlements in order to care for her four-year-old son following the closure of schools in mid-March to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
With schools expected to reopen in September, Aisha has no choice but to stay at home with her son.
She has no one else she trusts to stay with him.
While many businesses were closed for various portions of the COVID-19 lockdown period, Aisha was one of those who was considered an essential worker.
But this situation with Aisha is not an anomaly.
It is a situation being faced by parents and guardians around the country as schools and alternative childcare services remain closed.
For a significant portion of the COVID-19 lockdown period, Joan was able to stay at home with her special needs teen daughter, but when casinos reopened two Mondays ago she had to return to work.
Joan did what many would think unimaginable.
She went to work and left her daughter locked inside the house by herself.
A neighbour reported Joan to the police.
Luckily, nothing happened to the teen.
“What am I supposed to do? I have to work to get money and I need money to get food to eat,” Joan said.
It is a conundrum that this country’s leaders say they have been trying to contend with.
“We are having a plethora of those issues coming up now. We are of the view that if somebody has to stay home because of the virus that some consideration has to be given because who is going to see about their child? Are they going to leave their children unattended? Are you asking mothers to make a decision between the health and the welfare of their children and safety as opposed to work?” National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) general secretary Michael Annisette said.
Annissette told of a situation facing one of the union’s members.
“There is a young lady who would have had to stay home from the port simply because she is a single parent, she would have lost employment through that. When she made the application to get the (salary relief) grant she was advised it is only for people who got laid off,” Annisette said.
She is a daily paid worker.
“Women who find themselves in a situation where they are forced through the pandemic to stay home and mind their children are now finding themselves in a situation where employers are refusing to sign off on the forms on the basis that it does not apply to them,” he said.
Annissette said one of the most unfortunate things is that the country’s most vulnerable are being left exposed.
To originally deal with these kinds of circumstances to be faced by working parents Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus held a press conference on March 15 and mentioned “pandemic leave.”
“For the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic employers are required to implement Pandemic Leave provisions within their organisations in a compassionate manner which ensures business continuity whilst securing the national interest,” Baptiste-Primus said.
The officers who were expected to be eligible for the pandemic leave within the public service were permanent, temporary, monthly paid and daily rated public officers, contract employees and on the job trainees among others.
However, when asked about the pandemic leave in the Parliament in April, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley pandemic leave was no longer necessary.
“On March 15, 2020, the reference to pandemic leave was a discussion that took place very early in our response to the growth and progress of the COVID-19 virus. This matter has been largely overtaken by the decisions that we have taken with respect to the stay at home where the entire public sector workforce, except essential workers and the public sector, where we have embarked upon significant extension of the stay at home which rendered much of this concern redundant.,” Rowley said.
Rowley said when the issue of pandemic leave arose it was made very clear that it had to be approved by the Cabinet.
“The Cabinet went further than that and kept the working force at home. So the concern that generated pandemic leave in its fullness is no longer with us, and the matter of whether you have some element of it still being considered is still there but there is no pandemic leave as was initially envisaged to take care of any person who may be away from work more than their 14-day sick leave,” Rowley said.
“Madam Speaker, that has been superseded but there are considerations for other developments and that is a matter for the Cabinet, and that is where the matter lies at the moment,” he said.
Trevor Johnson the assistant general secretary of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) lamented that pandemic leave was not on the card.
“There was a lot of talk. A lot of bureaucracy, a lot of social dialogue but one of the implications of social dialogue is that sometimes it takes too long,” Johnson said.
‘Up to now the Cabinet has not made a decision on pandemic leave, in short pandemic leave does not exist,” he said.
Johnson said while pandemic leave was envisioned for the public sector the intention was for the private sector to use compassion.
“What exists now are discretionary arrangements where either employers may implement or unions may seek to have discussions notwithstanding there is nothing in the collective agreement. Any union worth its salt will begin to engage employers in dialogue whenever we get a request,” Johnson said.
“It is left really to each union. There is nothing across the board that says this is what the government is doing, this is what unions are doing it is really left to each union in a unionised environment and the respective employers,” he said.
Johnson said each collective agreement and so the unions have to engage the organisations on a case by case basis.
Johnson said he knows of a situation with a couple with three young children and the mother was required to work five days a week during the lockdown period.
“That is symptomatic of a change that many people are having,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the government has sidestepped any tangible solution to the issue.