Karonga Diocese Pandemic Prevention, Containment and Management: Covid-19 Policy – March 2021
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- 0. INTRODUCTION
This Pandemic Prevention, Containment and Management Policy (“the Policy”) is framed to respond to the unprecedented and disastrous effects of COVID-19 pandemic. In establishing this Policy, the Diocese of Karonga seeks to provide guidelines and options for addressing the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 pandemic. The Policy shall also be prescriptive of a pathway where there is a conflict in the interplay between Karonga Diocese’s demand for productivity and the requirement of safety of its Employees. The Policy will also institutionalise responses at the global and national level.
- 2. Policy Background
From December 2019, the world became a home to an aggressive and fast-spreading novel disease called Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). The first reported case and subsequent outbreak from a cluster of novel human pneumonia cases were confirmed in Wuhan, China. Since then, thousands of cases of the COVID-19 have been reported in China, as well as in other parts of the world.
Malawi registered its first confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on 2nd April 2020. Cases have since exponentially increased. The nation was unprepared in terms of resources and legal gateway to institute prevention, containment and management measures. The Public Health Act was enacted without prior anticipation of such a pandemic. For this reason, the Minister of Health, in exercise of the powers conferred by section 31 of the Public Health Act and pursuant to the declaration of the coronavirus as a formidable disease on the 1st day of April 2020, gazetted Public Health (Coronavirus Prevention, Containment and Management) Rules 2020. The nation has gone full-throttle to manage the crisis. At an institutional level, the Diocese of Karonga is doing the same.
1.3 Policy Objectives
The objective of this Policy is to prevent the spread of Coronavirus in the workplace, protect jobs and incomes, safeguard the health and safety of employees, ensure continuity of productivity and promote innovative COVID-19 solutions through social dialogue. The Policy addresses a whole spectrum of issues ranging from prevention, response, mitigation, management and recovery. It spells out roles and responsibilities of both Employer and employee. The overall objective is to safeguard interests of both the Employer and the Employees.
1.4 Scope of the Policy
The Policy binds both Employer and Employee of the Diocese of Karonga. Employees are strongly advised to read through and understand the options to ensure that there is collective and uniform response to the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Policy is aimed at ensuring the health and safety of all employees for a conducive and stable working atmosphere as maximum productivity is desired. While the Policy addresses some scenarios that relate to prevention of COVID-19 outside workplace, it shall only bind the workforce of the Diocese of Karonga. Additionally, the Policy aims at safeguarding interests of the Employer where productivity is hugely compromised as a result of the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) rendering the Employer unable to pay remuneration and benefits due to the Employee as part of contractual obligations.
2.0 PREVENTION OBLIGATIONS AT WORKPLACE
This section will spell out roles for both the employer and the employee in order to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In recognition that most of the workforce has been working from home, there are scenarios that demand physical availability at the office. This section shall raise obligations in both scenarios to ensure prevention of COVID-19 and proper discharging of duties.
2.1 Employer’s Obligations
The Employer including Heads of Directorates, Commissions and Departments shall:
a. Ensure that all meetings and workshops that require people coming together are suspended except for those that are COVID-19 related.
b. Seek the prior written approval from the Bishop or the Vicar General before organizing meetings or workshops that require people to physically meet.
c. Organise regular capacity building sessions in order to ensure proper dissemination of knowledge about prevention and management of COVID-19, preferably through virtual means.
d. Ensure that all those coming into offices are screened at the point of entry.
e. Provide adequate facilities to ensure employees, clients and visitors entering the Karonga Diocese Curia premises adhere to all COVID-19 public health guidelines, such as washing hands thoroughly and regularly with soap or using hand sanitizers.
f. Ensure that offices and conference room are disinfected once every month, preferably on a Friday afternoon.
g. Decongest workplaces by introducing shifts to avoid overcrowding. To ensure decongestion, the Employer shall adhere to the Occupation Safety, Health and Welfare Act, and the World Health Organisation Guidelines.
h. Post in every office notice specifying the number of persons who may occupy that room at a given time.
i. Limit number of clients and visitors entering the offices at a time.
j. Allow employees with COVID-19 symptoms to stay at home and be absent during meetings even those to do with COVID-19 Management and Prevention.
k. Allow vulnerable employees including those with underlying medical conditions to work from home.
l. Minimize face-to-face meetings and facilitate virtual meetings.
m. Regularly assess risks of COVID-19 at the Curia offices and implement preventative measures where gaps have been identified.
n. Assess risk of COVID-19 when work related travel is being planned, and as much as possible, prevent travel for work.
o. Provide appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to high risk employees whose work demand a lot of contact.
p. Encourage the use of electronic payments and financial transactions by the Finance Department.
q. Ensure that no Employee, client or visitor to the Curia offices is granted access to offices or conference room without wearing face mask or face shield.
r. Send Employees who deliberately break these preventive measures into a fourteen (14) days period of self-quarantine.
s. Place posters on prevention of the spread of COVID-19 at strategic locations throughout the workplace.
t. Update staff on confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the workplace, if any, and any support being rendered by the Employer.
u. Ensure that employees’ contact numbers and emergency contact information are up to date and also maintain details of immediate family members of each employee.
v. Report to an enforcement officer, community health worker, a member of a village health committee or any appropriate authority, whichever is applicable, any suspected case of death of COVID-19.
2.2 Employees’ Obligations
a. Take reasonable care for their personal safety and that of other persons who may be affected by their acts or omission at the workplace and outside workplace.
b. Co-operate with the employer on the implementation of measures put in place to prevent COVID-19 at the workplace. This shall include the use of PPEs, regular cleaning of hands with soap and use of hand sanitizers.
c. If hands are dirty or soiled, not to use an alcohol based hand sanitizer, rather, wash hands with soap and water.
d. Wear face masks at all times.
e. Ensure that there shall be observance of social distance of not less than one metre where two or more employees come together.
f. Stay away from work when experiencing symptoms that are associated with COVID-19 i.e. Shortness of breath, fever, cough and other difficulties in breathing) until such a time that he/she is cleared by the hospital.
g. Refrain from touching face, mouth, nose and eyes.
h. Avoid handshakes
i. Disclose to the employer if tested positive for COVID-19 so as to initiate adequate interventions at the workplace.
j. Go for voluntary testing for COVID-19 at a designated health facility or testing centre or call toll free line on 54747 or any other line designated by the Ministry wherever it has been established that the Employee in question is a direct contact of COVID-19 patient.
k. Seek medical attention when experiencing symptoms that are associated with COVID-19.
l. Seek approval of the Bishop or the Vicar General before attending all other meetings and workshops that require people coming together.
m. Engage the employer through appropriate enterprise structures for any shortfalls on COVID-19 preventative measures.
n. Report to the Employer, any employee whose action compromises preventive measures.
o. Report to the Employer any employee, customer or visitor who displays COVID-19 symptoms.
p. Adhere to all measures contained in the Public Health (Corona Virus Containment, Prevention and Management) Rules 2020.
q. Adhere to preventive measures applicable to all councils in line with the Public Health Act such as suspension of weddings, engagement ceremonies, bridal showers, send offs and all gatherings of public and social nature; participation in all live games and band shows; frequenting bottle stores, pubs, bars and clubs other than for the purpose of buying and drinking at home, including in all hospitality facilities.
r. Endeavour to have hand washing facility and soap and wherever possible hand sanitizers at household level.
s. Follow any other guidelines provided by the Ministry of Health from time to time.
3.0 POLICY STATEMENTS
This section will identify potential issues that might be resultant of the COVID-19 pandemic and provide for the policy composition that will assist the Diocese of Karonga to dispose an issue or manage a scenario in relation to COVID-19 pandemic. In managing such scenarios, the Diocese of Karonga shall follow the legal and policy guidance of the Government and the Catholic Social Teaching. Below are identified issues and their policy statements:
4.0 WHAT HAPPENS WHEN AN EMPLOYEE CONTRACTS THE DISEASE
Once an employee tests positive for COVID-19, these steps shall be followed:
a. The employee shall immediately go into self or institutional isolation.
b. The employee shall immediately disclose this state of affairs to the employer who shall immediately identify the contacts of the said person within the workforce.
c. The employees who were in contact with the person shall immediately self-quarantine and go for voluntary testing.
d. The employer shall disinfect offices and conference room.
e. An employee shall not return to work unless granted certificate of discharge by the District Health Office concerned.
f. In the case of priests and religious brothers and sisters serving in the Diocese of Karonga, they shall be nursed in their respective presbyteries and convents.
i. Should they require hospitalization, they shall be taken to Atupele Community Hospital where an Isolation Centre has been prepared at that stage medical staff at Atupele Community Hospital shall determine subsequent steps.
ii. The Diocese of Karonga together with religious/parish communities to which the sick priest, sister or brother belongs shall provide extra assistance if necessary and as much as it can afford.
g. Concerning the lay staff, the treatment procedure shall be decided upon by the employee and his/her family and in accordance with guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health.
i. The Diocese shall provide extra support if necessary and as much as it can afford.
5.0 IF AN EMPLOYEE DIES OF COVID-19
a. When an employee dies of COVID-19,Ministry of Health guidelines on Infection Prevention and Control Measures – Transportation of Dead Bodies and Safe Burial (COVID-19) shall be followed.
b. All the benefits shall be paid to the bereaved family members as per the Diocese of Karonga Terms and Conditions of Service.
c. Attendance of funeral and burial ceremonies of an employee by the other members of staff shall be restricted and shall follow Ministry of Health Guidelines.
d. Regarding the death of a priest, sister or brother all other arrangements shall be as per the custom of the Diocese subject to sub-sections 5 (a) and (c) of this Policy.
6.0 COST CONTAINMENT MEASURES
Where the Employer is struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic to the point that it is very likely to be unable to pay its employees, it shall implement cost containment measures. In the implementation, the employer shall adhere to the Employment Act and the abiding Diocese of Karonga Terms and Conditions of Service.
6.1.1 Guidelines and Principles
a. In such circumstances, the Employer shall follow these guidelines and principles: Provide employees with all relevant information about the financial situation of the Diocese of Karonga and give, as early as possible, an opportunity for consultations on possible measures to be taken to avertor to minimize terminations due to COVID-19 impact in relation to Section 38 of the Labour Relations Act.
b. Communicate transparently to employees on the impact of COVID-19 on organisational status.
c. Use social dialogue as a means to establish a common position on
safeguarding jobs wherever possible, and ensuring business continuity including introduction of flexible working schedules and working from home.
d. Engage employees through social dialogue to find innovative solutions in order to minimize terminations.
e. The employer shall choose a cost containment measure that least affects the employees wherever possible.
6.1.2 Cost-containment option
The following cost-containment measures shall be deployed:
6.1.3 Working from Home
a. Where an employee is allowed to work from home there shall be an agreement between employer and employee that clearly defines the expectations and responsibilities for employees who work from home.
b. The employer shall also define eligible employees to work from home, the process for requesting work from home privileges, as well as the approval process.
c. The employer shall provide an enabling environment for work. Depending on the type of employment, this may turn out to be a cost containment measure since certain operational costs may be saved i.e. staff fuel advance and transport, electricity, water, internet charges, toiletries, refreshments et cetera.
d. The employer shall put up means to assess productivity while the employee is working from home.
6.1.4 Annual Leave Advance
During the COVID-19 outbreak, it is permissible for the Employer, in consultation with the Employee, to ask the Employee to utilise leave days which have not yet accrued or accrue in future.
6.1.5 Unpaid Leave and Furlough
a. Where there is economic difficulty, the Employer shall enter into mutual agreement with the employee to go to unpaid leave or a furlough.
a. A furlough, which is a placement of an Employee in a temporary leave without pay status for a specified period when an Employer cannot afford to pay the Employee’s wages, shall be implemented with the consent of the Employee.
c. When that is done, the Employee will have saved his or her job whilst allowing the Employer to recover from the harsh effects of COVID-19.
d. The Employer shall not pay salary arrears for the period the Employee will go for unpaid leave or furlough.
e. The Employee shall sign an agreement forgoing the salary and salary arrears and confirming that he or she has obtained independent legal advice on the terms and effect of the Agreement and in particular the effect on his or her inability to pursue a complaint in the Industrial Relations Court, the High Court or any other court.
6.1.6 Rotational/Flexible Working Schedule
a. To prevent the spread of COVID-19 the Employer has a choice to come up with rotation or flexible working schedule to decongest the offices.
b. The schedule for this shall be decided at a Directorate, Commission and Department level.
c. The Employee shall adhere to their proposed schedule.
6.1.7 Salary Deferment
a. Depending on the type of employment, and wherever possible, the Employer, with the consent of the Employee, shall defer salary.
b. Salary deferment entails that instead of paying the whole salary at once, as provided for in the Diocese of Karonga Terms and Conditions of Service, the Employer shall pay part of the salary on the due date and the other part later.
a. Where the above cost containment measures fail, the contract of employment may have to be terminated based on the Diocese of Karonga Terms and Conditions of Service.
b. The Employer, adversely affected by COVID-19 shall consult the Employee concerned about his or her redundancy.
c. The Employer shall pay costs in relation to accrued leave days, notice pay, repatriation and severance pay.