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COVID-19: Stay Home and Save Lives – Dominica Business Forum

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The 24th March 2020 address by the Honourable Prime Minister, Mr Roosevelt Skerrit, did not provide the general public with adequate protocols for effectively managing the extent of the looming public health, economic and social disaster that is likely to evolve from the present and continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We note that the Prime Minister has not truly been in contact with the leadership pf the private sector as the Dominica Business Forum, incorporated by six (6) of the major private sector business organisation as the umbrella body of the private sector, and therefore puts it in that leadership position, is yet to be contacted or invited to any consultation on COVID-19. Notwithstanding that some of our members were contacted, and, invited to a meeting with the public sector a mere 30 minutes before holding a planned meeting on 24thMarch, 2020.

The effects of the current COVID-19 pandemic, which are similar to that of war, including unpredictable loss of life, as well as social and economic hardship, is already having some devastating effect on the country.   Given that the enemy is invisible, but predictable, the address by the PM Minister did not go far enough to assure the public, the business community or employees, that the State understands or is able to deal with the looming crisis.   It is widely accepted, at this time, that there are three effective ways to curb the spread of the COVID-19 (Corona virus):

  1. to close one’s borders to new entrances of infections,
  2. to employ quarantine, isolation as well as lockdown/shutdown and stay-at-home protocol to limit contact between individuals except within families and those engaged in essential services, and
  3. to pass necessarily legislations to ensure that the protocols under 1 and 2 are effective in the interest of public health and to safeguard the economy.

The Prime Minister limited the State’s intervention to a continued delayed response to closing of borders, even given the many urgent call to do so with dispatch by organisations including the Dominica Medical Association.

The present unfolding of the COVID19 pandemic means that there is a very grave chance that in continuing to attend work, our employees will contract the disease and very importantly, likely to pass it to their relatives at home, including the elderly, and others venerable to being critically ill and dying from the disease.  There is real risk to life through the contracting of this disease through daily commute to work and the close working contacts that are inevitable in some work environments, either with co-workers or with the business clientele. In these situations, it is virtually impossible to continually maintain the 6 feet minimum social distancing that is recommended.  As employers of our workmen and women, we have the legal and moral responsibility not to put our employees in any situation that will cause them harm.  COVID-19 is a very serious health and safety issue at the work place, or in the process of coming to the work place, and our continued requirement that our employees come to work is not in keeping with this legal and moral responsibility at this time.

Specifically, therefore, Employers will be unable to continue the performance of businesses, in the immediate period and until we are provided with guidance that the risk to employees, and consequently their families, has been substantially reduced, without exposing these persons to the present risks.

Although our government is slow to pronounce a Stay-at-Home protocol and the shutting down of all non-essential business and social activities, many governments, including the UK and much of Europe, having regrettably learnt the sad outcome of not doing so early, has instituted this protocol. India, with a population of 1.2 billion persons, has shut down the country.We note however that the Diocese of Roseau has followed the learnt and Christian responsibility of other dioceses worldwide by asking the faithful in its Statement of 24th March 2020 to “Please stay home and save lives!” and giving dispensation for being unable to attend Sunday mass, given by the Roman Catholic Church only in grave circumstances.

While the economy is important, it is unacceptable for the State to ask its citizens, by delaying to urgently institute the required protocol with legislative backing,  to risk sacrificing themselves or their employees while the State works to shore the financial impact.   Many more people will die than is necessary if the above three strategies are not followed urgently.   Many countries have, in tandem with the protocols to safeguard public health, have rolled up socio-economic packages to buttress both the people and businesses from the impact of the COVID-19 disaster.   The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, a sister OECS state, has as of 24th March 2020, rolled out a State-financed $120M economic support packages in addition to immediately investing $16.9M into the public health system to combat COVID19.  This is what is expected from good and responsible government.

The circumstances of COVID19 fits perfectly in this definition of Force Majeure. Force Majeure is defined, in the context of a contractual engagement, as an exceptional event or circumstance (i) which is beyond a party’s control, (ii) which such a party could not have reasonable provided against before entering into Contract, (iii) which, having arisen, such party could not reasonably have avoided or overcome, and (iv) which is not substantially attributable to the other party.   Hence, businesses, government and employees cannot be strictly held responsible for economic and financial hardships that will ensue.  But we, as a people, are expected to act with compassion to safeguard the life and welfare of our fellow citizens.

As a responsible private sector umbrella body, the Dominica Business Forum Inc therefore solicits the good nature of every business employer to instruct our employees to stay at home as a health and safety requirement in the circumstances of the COVID19 pandemic.  We are encouraged by the exemplary businesses who have already done so, or are in the process of doing so.  If the State does not want to, we call on all businesses, as responsible private sector members, for our employees sake, or our family sake, for the country’s sake, let us do it – shutdown and stay home.

We call on our employees, to Stay Home And Save Lives!

 





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Dominica

COVID-19: Pronouncement of construction an essential service.

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BCAD Executive met by teleconference on 3rd April 2020 to deliberate on the Government’s consideration of construction as an essential service, as obtained in SRO 15 of 2020, and to review this new situation as it will impact and potentially affect the local construction sector within the circumstances of the COVID19 pandemic, and the sector’s collateral impact on the wider private sector and the public as a whole.

 

Contributions were received and made by the following Executive Members:

Mr Gregor Fortune

Mr Delbert Paris

Mr Kevin Henderson

Mr Melkezideck Toussaint,

Mr Steve Astaphan,

Mr Stewart Paris, and

Mr Anthony Le Blanc.

 

SRO 15 of 2020 – Emergency Power (Disaster) – (Curfew) Order

 SRO 15 of 2020 was Gazetted and came into effect on 1st April 2020.

  1. Section 7(1)(g) provides “Subject to paragraphs 3 and 5, every non-essential establishment, or business shall remain closed except for the following – … (g) Construction and manufacturing projects, … may open between the hours of 6:00 am and 4:00m pm Monday to Friday.
  2. Section 7(1)(g) (i) to (v) provides that work on-site are subject to compliance with increased attention to sanitation, provision of additional PPE (face mask) and maintenance of 2 m ( 6 ft 8”) social distances for workmen as far as reasonably possible.
  3. Section 12 limits passengers to one person per row with no passengers allowed at the front with the driver.

 

Support and Concerns:

The Meeting expressed support for activities and actions which are aimed at curtailing the spread of the COVID19 epidemic in Dominica.  That BCAD Executive supports the efforts of the Government of Dominica through the principal agency of the Ministry of Health and in general, supports the provisions in the SRO 15 which seek to encourage persons to stay home and save lives.

However, the Meeting had serious concerns with some of the provisions of the SRO 15 and its development, as it relates to the consideration of Construction as an essential service:

  • Public Information and Consultation.
  • Lack of Forewarning: The Meeting expressed concern, as was expressed in its reaction of 23rd March 2020, that the State has failed to publish a plan as to what is to be expected at each level of the COVID19 epidemic. Hence, both the pronouncements of 22nd March 2019 and that of the 1st April 2020 provided no forewarning or time to wind down activities, which would have enabled contractors to do a shutdown of non-essential or non-critical work properly.
    1. Absence of Consultation with the Local Sector: The meeting expressed surprised that the local construction sector was not consulted, and certainly the executive of BCAD had no input in the SRO which pronounced that construction projects are to be considered as essential services and ought to continue as normal in this COVIFD19 pandemic.
  • Overall responsibility of Limiting Spread of COVIOD19: The Meeting agreed that every contractor, and every employee in the construction sector, has a personal and collective responsibility to limit the spread of COIVID19, and therefore should not engage in work or other activity which has the potential to undermine the efforts of others, including the State. Hence, the meeting found that the present pronouncement of the SRO at section 7cannot be supported as:
    1. it is impractical to engage in construction site activities and expect that workmen will continually be able to maintain a 2 m(6 ft 8”) distance between them and work efficiently,
    2. given, that construction workers, on many existing projects, come from all over the island, it is, therefore, impractical to expect public transport to be readily available to carry workers to site if they are to comply with the requirement to operate at 25% capacity (1 per row) for the same fare,
    3. each exposure of a construction worker on a site or during the commute exposes his/her whole household to the possibility of infection with COIVID19.
  • Productivity and Cost.
    1. The Meeting found that the Contractor will likely be operating inefficiently, with less than ideal staffing, and at low productivity and increased cost for work which has already be priced under a contract, given the limitations provided under the curfew and SRO 15 Clause 7 and 12. It was cited that
      • it would be unlikely to have a full workday if key workmen have to commute from remote locations,
      • some workmen will not be available on account of either fear of contracting the disease, or having to stay home with minors, or having taken a proactive stance about limiting the spread of the disease, and
      • In addition to the new direct cost of the extra PPE required, these may not be readily available, and therefore require not only extra procurement cost but also, may require extra supervisory cost in order to ensure their utilisation.
    2. To mitigate against (a) (ii) above, the possibility of extra transportation cost, it is likely that the Contractor would have to contribute to commuting
    3. That it is an extra cost to the State and diverts resources from other more critical aspects of managing COVID19 if police officers or other State officials have to divert resources to ensure that construction sites comply with the requirements of SRO 15.
  1. Health and Safety and Legal Framework: The meeting noted that Contractors as employers are still responsible for the health and safety of employees on the construction site.  Therefore, knowingly engaging them and exposing them and their families to COVID19, either on the site or during commute to or from the site, places employees in a compromised health and safety situation.   Further, that any incident of infection, or suspected infection, of an employee on-site, will likely result in the closing down of the site as all employees are likely to be quarantined.
  2. Duration and Implication of Consideration of Construction as an “Essential Service”: The Meeting expressed concern, that given that Construction was considered an essential service, the majority by volume of Government procured construction services were not made available to be undertaken by local contractors or construction workers. Further, it questioned whether this pronouncement would be permanent for all other disasters, or only this time.

 

Recommendations.

The BCAD Executive therefore strongly recommend the following:

  • That all Builders and Contractors, our employees and the general public are encouraged to stay at home and save lives, unless their construction activity can impact positively on limiting the spread or management of COVID19, or in some way essential for the proper functioning of the State.
  • That generally construction workers should stay at home, spending time with family and doing the long outstanding trade work at home with the help of family members.
  • That, in the circumstances of limiting the spread and enhancing the management of COVID19, construction projects are to be generally and rightly considered as non-essential economic activities. Hence BCAD Executive requests that, until at least the conclusion of the emergency period dictated under SRO 15,
    1. local Builders and Contractors should not be engaged in, or continue, construction works as normal, neither should they endanger their employees by requiring that they attend to site work,
    2. the Public Sector shuts down its construction projects and encourages consultants to work from home, and construction workers to stay at home and save lives
    3. That where restrictions are to be imposed, some forewarning be given in order that non-essential project works are brought to a close safely and with all critical elements concluded.
  • That more private sector business organisations be brought into discussions about finding more creative ways of limiting the spread and enhancing the management of COVID19.





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IN PICTURES: Dominica parliament holds first meeting since COVID-19 declared pandemic

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The Dominica parliament convened this morning for the Second Meeting of The First Session of The Tenth Parliament where two COVID-19-related bills were introduced for debate.

Dominica News Online (DNO) got some photographs of parliamentarians, most of them wearing masks, as they arrived at the Parliament building. Photos by Cecil Clarke.





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Dominica

COVID-19: Pronouncement of construction an essential service.

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BCAD Executive met by teleconference on 3rd April 2020 to deliberate on the Government’s consideration of construction as an essential service, as obtained in SRO 15 of 2020, and to review this new situation as it will impact and potentially affect the local construction sector within the circumstances of the COVID19 pandemic, and the sector’s collateral impact on the wider private sector and the public as a whole.

 

Contributions were received and made by the following Executive Members:

Mr Gregor Fortune

Mr Delbert Paris

Mr Kevin Henderson

Mr Melkezideck Toussaint,

Mr Steve Astaphan,

Mr Stewart Paris, and

Mr Anthony Le Blanc.

 

SRO 15 of 2020 – Emergency Power (Disaster) – (Curfew) Order

 SRO 15 of 2020 was Gazetted and came into effect on 1st April 2020.

  1. Section 7(1)(g) provides “Subject to paragraphs 3 and 5, every non-essential establishment, or business shall remain closed except for the following – … (g) Construction and manufacturing projects, … may open between the hours of 6:00 am and 4:00m pm Monday to Friday.
  2. Section 7(1)(g) (i) to (v) provides that work on-site are subject to compliance with increased attention to sanitation, provision of additional PPE (face mask) and maintenance of 2 m ( 6 ft 8”) social distances for workmen as far as reasonably possible.
  3. Section 12 limits passengers to one person per row with no passengers allowed at the front with the driver.

 

Support and Concerns:

The Meeting expressed support for activities and actions which are aimed at curtailing the spread of the COVID19 epidemic in Dominica.  That BCAD Executive supports the efforts of the Government of Dominica through the principal agency of the Ministry of Health and in general, supports the provisions in the SRO 15 which seek to encourage persons to stay home and save lives.

However, the Meeting had serious concerns with some of the provisions of the SRO 15 and its development, as it relates to the consideration of Construction as an essential service:

  • Public Information and Consultation.
  • Lack of Forewarning: The Meeting expressed concern, as was expressed in its reaction of 23rd March 2020, that the State has failed to publish a plan as to what is to be expected at each level of the COVID19 epidemic. Hence, both the pronouncements of 22nd March 2019 and that of the 1st April 2020 provided no forewarning or time to wind down activities, which would have enabled contractors to do a shutdown of non-essential or non-critical work properly.
    1. Absence of Consultation with the Local Sector: The meeting expressed surprised that the local construction sector was not consulted, and certainly the executive of BCAD had no input in the SRO which pronounced that construction projects are to be considered as essential services and ought to continue as normal in this COVIFD19 pandemic.
  • Overall responsibility of Limiting Spread of COVIOD19: The Meeting agreed that every contractor, and every employee in the construction sector, has a personal and collective responsibility to limit the spread of COIVID19, and therefore should not engage in work or other activity which has the potential to undermine the efforts of others, including the State. Hence, the meeting found that the present pronouncement of the SRO at section 7cannot be supported as:
    1. it is impractical to engage in construction site activities and expect that workmen will continually be able to maintain a 2 m(6 ft 8”) distance between them and work efficiently,
    2. given, that construction workers, on many existing projects, come from all over the island, it is, therefore, impractical to expect public transport to be readily available to carry workers to site if they are to comply with the requirement to operate at 25% capacity (1 per row) for the same fare,
    3. each exposure of a construction worker on a site or during the commute exposes his/her whole household to the possibility of infection with COIVID19.
  • Productivity and Cost.
    1. The Meeting found that the Contractor will likely be operating inefficiently, with less than ideal staffing, and at low productivity and increased cost for work which has already be priced under a contract, given the limitations provided under the curfew and SRO 15 Clause 7 and 12. It was cited that
      • it would be unlikely to have a full workday if key workmen have to commute from remote locations,
      • some workmen will not be available on account of either fear of contracting the disease, or having to stay home with minors, or having taken a proactive stance about limiting the spread of the disease, and
      • In addition to the new direct cost of the extra PPE required, these may not be readily available, and therefore require not only extra procurement cost but also, may require extra supervisory cost in order to ensure their utilisation.
    2. To mitigate against (a) (ii) above, the possibility of extra transportation cost, it is likely that the Contractor would have to contribute to commuting
    3. That it is an extra cost to the State and diverts resources from other more critical aspects of managing COVID19 if police officers or other State officials have to divert resources to ensure that construction sites comply with the requirements of SRO 15.
  1. Health and Safety and Legal Framework: The meeting noted that Contractors as employers are still responsible for the health and safety of employees on the construction site.  Therefore, knowingly engaging them and exposing them and their families to COVID19, either on the site or during commute to or from the site, places employees in a compromised health and safety situation.   Further, that any incident of infection, or suspected infection, of an employee on-site, will likely result in the closing down of the site as all employees are likely to be quarantined.
  2. Duration and Implication of Consideration of Construction as an “Essential Service”: The Meeting expressed concern, that given that Construction was considered an essential service, the majority by volume of Government procured construction services were not made available to be undertaken by local contractors or construction workers. Further, it questioned whether this pronouncement would be permanent for all other disasters, or only this time.

 

Recommendations.

The BCAD Executive therefore strongly recommend the following:

  • That all Builders and Contractors, our employees and the general public are encouraged to stay at home and save lives, unless their construction activity can impact positively on limiting the spread or management of COVID19, or in some way essential for the proper functioning of the State.
  • That generally construction workers should stay at home, spending time with family and doing the long outstanding trade work at home with the help of family members.
  • That, in the circumstances of limiting the spread and enhancing the management of COVID19, construction projects are to be generally and rightly considered as non-essential economic activities. Hence BCAD Executive requests that, until at least the conclusion of the emergency period dictated under SRO 15,
    1. local Builders and Contractors should not be engaged in, or continue, construction works as normal, neither should they endanger their employees by requiring that they attend to site work,
    2. the Public Sector shuts down its construction projects and encourages consultants to work from home, and construction workers to stay at home and save lives
    3. That where restrictions are to be imposed, some forewarning be given in order that non-essential project works are brought to a close safely and with all critical elements concluded.
  • That more private sector business organisations be brought into discussions about finding more creative ways of limiting the spread and enhancing the management of COVID19.





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