2877706
Minister of Public Administration and Digital Transformation, Allyson West makes her contribution during debate on the Appropriation Bill, 2020 in the 3rd sitting of the Senate, yesterday.

Minister of Public Administration and Digital Transformation Allyson West says Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s call for the full return of the public servants to work on Monday was misinterpreted.

During a press conference updating the country on the latest COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday, Rowley said, “As of Monday, the full public service is to get back out to work.”

This led public servants to believe that the current work from home rotational programme had been abandoned and they were to return to work.

But according to West, Rowley’s statements were misunderstood and the phrase “full public service” didn’t necessarily mean everyone returning to their offices.

During a telephone interview with Guardian Media, West said Rowley really meant that public servants were now required to do 100 per cent of their duty even if this was from home.

She pointed out that after the Government’s announcement that the public service was to operate at 50 per cent back in July to ensure social distancing could take place at government offices, some employees took advantage of the work from home system utilised, which led to lower productivity and then trickled down to the citizens.

“What we saw happening was that people took that to mean that they were only required to work 50 per cent of the time,” West said. “You would go into public offices and you would not be properly attended to because there were not people there to attend to you.”

She acknowledged that one of the main fallouts of the misinterpretation of the PM’s comment was that public servants who were parents were left in a quandary about how they would take care of their children, since day-cares and schools remain closed as education is being accessed online by students.

At the press conference, the Prime Minister sought to clarify this by saying the Government, which is this country’s main employer, will take into account workers with children by giving them the option of going to work at later hours, working from home or rotation where applicable.

But it seems some public service managers misunderstood this call as well. Some public servants who preferred to remain unidentified said they were still required to be at work physically by their managers. One worker and single mother said she raised the issue with her manager when she went out to work on Monday but did not get any feedback.

Yesterday, West said these issues were being addressed.

“What is happening is that the PS’ are having discussions with each other and then that’s supposed to trickle down to their staff, especially the managers of their units,” West said.

She said the most the critical thing now is proper management of the workflow throughout the public service.

“It cannot be that you walk into a public service office and you don’t know whether there will be somebody there to serve you,” she said.

On Friday in the Senate, West said a work from home policy within the public service is to be established and said it was in motion even before COVID-19 but noted it needs to be properly managed.

“What COVID did was accelerated the implementation of that policy,” she said.

West told Guardian Media yesterday that she did not have the attendance statistics of the public service from Monday. She said the turnout at her ministry was good but they were also looking into the attendance rate at other ministries.

Contacted yesterday, Public Service Association president Watson Duke said he will respond to the mix-up today.

Earlier this week, however, Duke threatened to take legal action against the Government to stop what he called a wicked act to the working class by asking them to return to work with the current measures in place for the pandemic still severely affecting workers.

“The Prime Minister has erred and made an erroneous call,” Duke said on Monday, also telling his members to choose their children over their jobs.