Temperature checks, masks now mandatory for BPO workers

MONTEGO BAY, St James — Global Services Association of Jamaica (GSAJ) head Gloria Henry says further measures will, as of Friday, be implemented at business process outsourcing (BPO) offices as part of efforts to curtail the spread of the novel coronavirus following positive tests of workers at the Portmore, St Catherine-based Alorica call centre.

At the same time, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced at a press conference last night that, in light of the 33 positive tests at Alorica, the health ministry will be carrying out inspections at all BPO companies islandwide to ensure they are following the prescribed protocols outlined by Government. Criminal investigations, he said, will be carried out at Alorica to determine if anyone should be held responsible for the virus outbreak at the company.

“As of Friday, there will be mandatory temperature checks for persons upon arrival at work, and mandatory wearing of masks for all persons on the call centre floor,” Henry told the Jamaica Observer yesterday, stressing that the requirements will complement a raft of guidelines that are already in place at the centres.

The GSAJ head was speaking to the Observer ahead of the prime minister’s press conference and a news release issued by state minister in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information Alando Terrelonge, who mandated players in the island’s BPO sector to immediately review and update their COVID-19-related health and safety measures or to develop and implement policies where none exist.

“While we understand the economic importance of the BPO sector and the jobs created for over 40,000 Jamaicans, this must not supersede the importance of the health of our society and, in this case, the health of our youth population,” said Terrelonge, who represents the St Catherine East Central constituency in Portmore.

The state minister added that he was aware of the potential risk of community spread in densely populated areas like Portmore, where a number of Alorica’s employees reside.

“The health and safety of all employees is paramount. This is a time for all employers in the BPO sector to enact proper policies and follow the sanitation guidelines set out by the Government and Ministry of Health and Wellness to keep our young people safe.”

And noting that Alorica has temporarily closed its offices in Kingston and Portmore for proper sanitation, Terrelonge said it might be useful for other BPO offices to follow suit.

“It is better to close for two to three weeks and review policies; implement necessary safety guidelines to maintain adequate social distancing; install hand sanitiser stations throughout the workplace, on buses that transport workers; and install thermometers for mandatory daily temperature checks for staff upon entering and leaving the workspace — if this is not already being done,” he urged.

The GSAJ, formerly known as the Business Process Industry Association of Jamaica (BPIAJ), president told the Observer yesterday that, since the declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, BPO companies have been working steadfastly to implement business continuity strategies for the sector, while ensuring that they protect the health and well-being of their employees.

“At a meeting on March 19, 2020 involving sector players and a representative of the Ministry of Health and Wellness, a number of measures were decided on and [were] to be implemented by BPO companies.

“These measures have been revised weekly as things have unfolded and in response to Jamaica’s fight against the pandemic,” she argued.

These include having no more than 20 people in a break room at any given time and social distancing, whereby all employees within a BPO centre are to be six feet away from each other.

In addition, periodically, fresh air is being allowed into the spaces, while buses transporting employees are also encouraged to have their air conditioning turned off and the windows open, and operators are asked to sanitise after each trip.

Regular hand-washing is mandated and facilitated and, where possible, hand-washing stations are placed outdoors to allow employees to wash their hands before they enter the facility.

Employees are also allowed to sanitise their devices and personal workspace to supplement general cleaning, while isolation rooms have been created and equipped to house employees if they begin to display symptoms of COVID-19.

Henry, who noted yesterday that Alorica is not a member of the GSAJ, stressed the importance of the sector to the country.

“The global services and BPO sector is an essential sector, not just for the economic contribution to the countries in which they operate, but for the support services that they provide in critical areas such as health care, telecommunications, national security, among others,” she noted.

The GSAJ president also pledged her association’s support for the measures being implemented by the Government to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Henry said more than 10,200 employees in the sector have been working from home, due to the novel coronavirus threat.

“This will allow, of course, for less employees to be on the road to be in the contact centres, and will provide greater levels of safety for the workers from a COVID-19 risk perspective,” she stated.

According to Henry, the sector, which last year raked in US$600 million, has seen a roughly three per cent reduction in its workforce since the outbreak of the disease.

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