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Audrey Hinchcliffe | COVID-19 – A Dictator On The Loose

Audrey Hinchcliffe | COVID-19 – A Dictator On The Loose

Photo By Gladstone Taylor : A cart operator is all geared up against the COVID-19 coronavirus. Jamaicans out in public and in the workplace are donning protective gear as the virus spreads.
I LIKE to put forward definitions to reduce the confusion with words assaulting our sensibilities daily from near and far, and to put into context what we are faced with. Currently, despite local and international efforts in the face of COVID-19, for mitigation and control, it continues to be defiant, so more and more we hear of ‘quarantine’ and ‘isolation’, which, at times, sounds like one and the same. Hence, information becomes misleading, if not overwhelming and confusing, in the way we talk about epidemic and the pandemic – and words matter.

For clarity, I reverted to Wikipedia and I quote, “a quarantine is a restriction on the movement of people and goods which is intended to prevent the spread of disease or pest.” It continues, “It is often used in connection to disease and illness, preventing the movement of those who may have been exposed to a communicable disease, but do not have a confirmed medical diagnosis.”

On the other hand, isolation (healthcare) consists of “various measures taken to prevent contagious disease from being spread’. For example, an “isolation ward used to isolate patients suffering from infectious diseases.” Simply stated, you are placed in quarantine when one is exposed to the disease; one is placed in isolation when one is suffering from the disease, you are put in a place by yourself, either may be voluntary or forced, and the location may be home or in a select facility by the government.

Additionally, the more I think about the behaviour of COVID-19, what comes to my mind is that a dictator is on the loose. A dictator is an “absolute authority in any sphere.” It is what dictates that is leading to the bold steps which are being taken worldwide. From the daily briefings and the international media, we are seeing how the governments are tackling the pandemic, but the results are mixed as the ‘Dictator’ directs otherwise. How then do we fathom what happened in the enclave – BPO in Portmore – which led to the lockdown of the parish of St Catherine, with ripple effects for neighbouring parishes, and, indeed, the entire country.

Those who are calling for the lockdown of Kingston and St Andrew must come to the realisation that it is in partial lockdown: This is evidenced by the fact that a large percentage of the workforce resides in St Catherine. This is a wake-up call to know where your worker lives (KWYWL). Human resources, take note that workers residing in St Catherine not only work in Kingston and St Andrew, but also Clarendon, Manchester, St Ann, and perhaps other parishes. Housing schemes and new highways have made the entire country a village where we work, sleep, play and educate our children.

The dictator can be a force for good and positive change, but it is up to us how we respond individually and collectively. Realising that a dictator has absolute authority in any sphere, it therefore drives our thinking – and to call it by its name, COVID-19 – directs the pre-pandemic, pandemic and post-pandemic actions on our businesses, people and processes. We are directed to park the textbooks on management (pre-2019) and dust off those on organisational behaviour. The dictator says pull out the strategic action plans, revenue projections, business continuity plans, marketing plans, contractual agreements, research & development, more specifically, HR policies and job descriptions and, of course, public policy which informs economic initiatives. With all of these, it is at the level of work, workforce and workplace that the brutal dictator is being fought off, so these bear looking at individually in response to the dictates of COVID-19.


This is an activity that a person engages in regularly to earn a livelihood. It comprises a specific task, duty, function or assignment, usually part of a larger activity, to sustain a business. It impacts on the mental and physical functions as we strive for results. Work emanates from industry-specific activities comprising products and services with established norms. However, the dictator has disrupted the norms; hence, work as we know it is has already begun to unravel. And so the argument on the future of work, long argued that the future is now, is validated by the upheaval caused by COVID-19. Business closures, scale back, shift in activities, and some projects placed on hold indefinitely is the present reality, hence the need to revise strategies and work orders to remain relevant during and after COVID-19.


The people, yes, the people, are front and centre to give effect to work. The workforce “is the workers engaged in a specific activity or enterprise. It is the total number of people in a country or region who are physically able to do a job and are available for work” ( Collins Dictionary). As I mentioned previously, it is the workforce which is facing off to mitigate and control the dictator – COVID-19. We are navigating in uncertain times, and business purpose and profit aside, privileges and pay cheques are in play. This is a stark reminder as lockdowns and curfews are enforced as part of the means to mitigate and control the dictator.

Respect for the workforce was heightened with quarantine of communities and, more specifically, the lockdown of St Catherine as a hot spot for the virus. St Catherine sneezed, and businesses in the private sector and public services caught pneumonia, particularly in Kingston and St Andrew. If indeed people fled, I dare say it was with their privileges and pay cheques in mind. The economic vulnerability was on full display – business places were left without their workforce. I am always fascinated when businesses tout that their most important asset is their workforce (I have a cadre of over 2,000), which goes through the gate at the end of each shift with no guarantee that it will return next day. The dictator has sent a clear message, BPOs and other important business are without their workforce. When we look further afield, the workforce is not only impacted by lockdowns and curfews, but by sickness and death.

The dictator is demonstrating its absolute authority worldwide. When taken together, work and workforce, which underpin the economy, are commanding new respect and appreciation for work arrangements and the people who make work happen.


“A workplace is a location where work is done for an employer – a place of employment.” Such a place can range from home, office building, factory or somewhere temporarily contracted to meet a need. Other than home, the workplace also provides a social space, a place for good, but can be confusing and overwhelming with biases, gender and discrimination issues requiring intervention. It also provides opportunities for professional growth and development. The development of new communication technologies has already changed the face of the workplace, leading to virtual workplace on a device – computer, tablet or smartphone. The workplace is also fraught with issues which go beyond legal and regulatory constructs, some of which have long being outmoded.

The dictator, COVID-19, has imposed rapid changes which saw businesses scrambling overnight to acquire devices to enable work to be done in spaces other than the well-entrenched brick-and-mortar spaces. While due consideration for alternate workplaces was under way – mostly experimenting with work from home – the BPO incident heightened the urgency brought on by lockdowns, curfew and quarantine. For employees to work from home comes with issues yet to be confronted.

A few companies which started experimenting with employees working from home, hopefully, can evaluate and develop effective and long-term work-from-home policies. The dictator-induced rapid response to new workplace arrangements will also serve to enhance policies for workplace re-definition. Of course, there will always be workplace exceptions, as there are businesses which require fixed spaces, such as manufacturing, mining, agriculture, aspects of BPOs and telecommunication, public utilities, retail trade, sanitation, supply chain management, among others.

The common thread running among workplaces of any type is cleaning and sanitation, which are integral to the mitigation and control of COVID-19. Hence, the type of work, the workforce and workplace relating to the latter, without doubt must be classified as essential service. Each subject is fraught with issues which will be developed into future articles on handling the dictator.

People power rules in bringing down dictators. There is no overnight fix, but the exercise of perseverance and sensible polices, matched by resources, sensitivity and incentives. The nightly news is unfortunately revealing aspects of ‘us and dem’, uptown versus downtown, urban vs rural, and even discrimination.

This is unacceptable as we, for the most part, know that COVID-19 does not respect boundaries, nor ideologies, local and international. It cannot be negotiated with, it has no cure, it has no respect for age nor wealth, it has no conscience. The world will never be the same as the dictator prevails. Among the measures for disrupting the ruthless impact are updating and putting in place laws and policies that should have been in place all along. Case in point is the OSHA that has been languishing for years. The outmoded Factories Act which seek to govern workplaces pales in the face of the dictator.

The future of work arrangements which is now in play make labour laws near-useless. There are lessons to be learnt here. Life is nearly never how we planned it, for example, just as the economy was on the up and up, here comes the dictator. Who knew that going to the IMF was on the radar? Who knew dengue would be upstaged by COVID-19? Who knew lockdowns and curfews would put us under manners? But things have a way of working out in the end, we will endure and will come out after COVID-19 ‘stronger together.’ We will, and we must.

Audrey Hinchcliffe is the CEO and founder of Manpower and Maintenance Services Ltd Group. Send feedback to ceo@manpowerja.com or columns@gleanerjm.com.

Source: The Gleaner Company Media Limited

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