West: Don’t wait on Government to create work-from-home policy

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Gridlocked traffic on the Churchill Roosevelt Highway, St Augustine caused by a fatal accident on the Beetham Highway on January 23. – FILE PHOTO

While the government makes progress in creating its remote work policy for the public sector, Public Administration Minister Allyson West says the private sector does not need to wait for its lead to create a work-from-home policy for employees.

Gridlock traffic has always been the bane of drivers nationwide. With recent congestion and gridlocks caused by ongoing major works along the Sir Solomon Hochoy Highway and last week’s killing of a pedestrian on the Beetham Highway, there have been renewed calls for people to be allowed to work from home.

West told Newsday, “The work-from-home policy that is being developed is for the public service or the civil service, and therefore the entire private sector, which contributes significantly to the pileup of traffic in TT, is at liberty, while we develop our policy for government purposes, to do what it decides is appropriate for the private sector.

“So they are not required to wait on us to determine what we are doing to go ahead and see what they can do to contribute to relieving the traffic if they are of the view that one of the measures that should be considered in relation to that is a work-from-home policy.”

West was responding to comments from business chambers in the local news media which she believes suggested the private sector is waiting for the government to make the first move.

“Our work-from-home policy does not dictate what the private sector does,” she said.

“I’m neither seeking to encourage nor discourage the private sector from making a determination on the work-from-home issue.

“What I would like to avoid, though, is the private sector seeking to give the impression that everything is dependent on the government’s policy. “If they choose to wait on us, that’s up to them, but I don’t want them to give the public the impression, as I got last week from reading the article, that they are required to wait for us because they are not.”

West said the contract for developing the remote-work policy for the public service was recently awarded and the government is hoping to have it completed and a decision made on its implementation within this fiscal year.

“The winning consultant has just been given the contract. We just had a signing last week, so they are now getting started.

“They have quite a few things to do. They have to look at the configuration of the public service, look at the different kinds of jobs we have, determine which jobs facilitate work from home, what is required to allow for work from home, and what if any, terms or conditions or laws or regulations have to be changed. All of these things have to be considered.”

She said the completed report would need to go before Cabinet, which would then decide how to put it into practice.

“There is quite a bit of work to do between now and when a policy is launched, if one is, in fact, launched because we will only agree to the introduction of a remote-work policy if we are comfortable it would not negatively impact on the productivity of the service.”

She said the government’s policy would not be “work from home” but rather remote work, where employees can visit government offices closer to their homes to work instead of their assigned offices.

A recent study by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean on traffic in TT found commuters spend around 110 minutes a day in traffic, which equates to around 33 days a year.

While some have called for a return to the work-from-home policy to ease traffic congestion, others are hoping for a return amidst concerns about covid19 and influenza spread. West said the public sector is not yet considering such a move.

“But if circumstances in a particular unit(s) dictate that it should be considered for a limited purpose, it will be.”