Leaders of four unions on the island expressed concern that the reincorporation of government employees to workplaces amid an upturn in Covid-19 infections will turn public service offices into sources of spread of the virus.
On Thursday, Governor Wanda Vázquez announced that as of Monday public employees must report to their respective agencies to work, which had already started gradually. It established that “only by way of exception may they have staff remotely taking into consideration situations and those with high risk.”
Regarding the concern regarding the safety of employees and the general public, the first executive reiterated that the agencies have their protocols in place.
The trustee and spokesman for Servidores Públicos Unidos (SPU), Benjamín Borges, told THE SPOKESMAN that he sent a letter yesterday to the Secretary of the Interior, Antonio Pabón Battle, requesting an urgent meeting. With this management, it is interesting to coordinate with the heads of agencies the conditions of each of the offices to ensure that physical distance can be maintained and that they have the personal protection and hygiene equipment, as well as the necessary disinfection capacity.
“(The reincorporation) will mean that those who are congregating in government offices are being opened to direct services, to receive public and to be more employees, that many of them before the pandemic and the instructions of physical distancing presented large challenges to be able to work in suitable conditions, “said Borges.
He mentioned that they understand that those offices that have been working with employees in person may be at their maximum capacity “and it will not be possible to comply with social distancing”, which intensifies the concern.
Borges stressed that reports are constantly received from public employees because they do not have sufficient cleaning and hygiene equipment.
“We did not hear yesterday (Thursday) that the measures had been taken into consideration or that a greater stockpile of personal protective equipment and hygiene equipment had been made to meet these needs in the offices with a greater number of face-to-face employees,” he said. .
Meanwhile, the president of the Puerto Rican Workers’ Union (SPT), Roberto Pagán, regretted that the first executive had given in to pressure from lobbyists and businessmen to allow the broader opening since the first quarantine period began in mid-March. .
“The reality is that not because of what we say, but rather experts on the subject, have indicated that a reopening in the conditions in which the government has opened will cause a level of contagion that will cause deaths and the need for a total closure” Pagán said, and established that there is a lot of expectation for it.
It considers that in terms of the services to be provided to citizens, it will be counterproductive.
“If we have a massive level of contagion, the different agencies will have to close, and then we will have to return to a total closure,” warned Pagán.
He noted that members of the union – which represents employees of the Department of Education (DE) – will continue to work remotely. “In this sense, in the DE there is no risk, but yes, the opening of other government agencies and other sectors of the economy seems totally wrong to us,” he added.
For his part, José Rodríguez Báez, president of the Puerto Rico Workers’ Federation, considers that the governor’s guideline may be a very serious error due to the hasty way in which it occurred and fears that the situation will generate an increase in infections.
“We know that the agency heads have not been in coordination with the union organizations to work on the measures that attend to the employees who are currently rendering services in person. To date, there has not been an activation of the occupational health and safety committees in the work centers. Making an announcement on a Thursday afternoon for a Monday is not going to give time to meet the health and safety requirements for workers, “he said.
He recommended that non-frontline workers do not have to work in person, in order to protect their health and that of the public.
“There is also a problem of lack of data here. There are no known statistics of a contagion trace in the workplace. This information is not seen publicly to know if it is being used for analysis before making decisions. It is not known whether this data is being collected from employees working in person in the public or private sectors, ”stated Rodríguez Báez.
Meanwhile, the president of the Union of Workers of the Electricity and Irrigation Industry (Utier), Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo, who represents the workers of the Electric Power Authority (PREPA), recalled that more than 95% of the union’s registration months working. However, they are concerned about the lack of compliance with the protocols in positive or suspected cases of Covid-19.
“There is no uniformity. There is no education, training continuously. The work plans are not reviewed as part of the discussion of daily work on the issue of Covid and the preventive measures to be taken, ”he said.
He added that “it has become ‘for himself who can’ and that is extremely worrying, PREPA’s lack of interest in resuming the negotiation on remote works in particular and viable circumstances, and the conditions of how this will be developed. work and worker protections ”.
Marc Thys, PREPA’s Human Resources director, pointed out that the public corporation has never stopped operating and that it has complied with the required protocols.