BPO reopens after COVID-19 scare

A day after public health officials ordered the closure of Teleperformance call centre it reopened its doors, a move lauded by Minister of Health Christopher Tufton during a tour of the facility where 18 workers have tested positive for COVID-19.

Tufton expressed satisfaction with the facility’s level of compliance with protocols in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. And he once again stressed that the approach now being taken, as we learn to live with the virus, is to avoid bringing businesses to a halt when cases are discovered.

“We want to discourage shutting down,” the minister told reporters.

He made it clear, however, that he had no issue with the closure order issued on Wednesday.

“In this instance I am told the public health team had concerns…and the public health team must reserve the right to have concerns where those concerns arise. So I am not taking away from what they are doing at all. I am a part of them, and we have to do what we have to do when it’s necessary, but our intention is always to support the operations of business by ensuring that the protocols are in place and that those protocols work,” he said. “That’s what I am here to promote and to support. And based on what I have seen, it indicates to me that the protocols are in place and I want to continue to encourage that that be done.”

On Wednesday, the call centre’s first shift was cancelled to facilitate deep cleaning carried out by the company and the health ministry. It was ordered shuttered on Tuesday while health authorities investigated the dozen-and-a-half cases at the facility. Located in the Montego Bay Freezone, Teleperformance is among a cluster of business process outsourcing (BPO) facilities checked weekly by health officials under guidelines rolled out after COVID-19 cases were reported at some BPOs across the island earlier this year.

Yesterday, Jake James Becker, country manager of Teleperformance told the Jamaica Observer that the plan had been to minimise disruption while addressing the cases discovered. Health officials advised the company of the need to do deep cleaning and prepare for an inspection, he said, an exercise which he anticipated would end by noon when he would resume operations.

“The inspection didn’t finish until 1:00 pm so we had a build-up of people outside, waiting to come in to work. So I sent them home. When I…looked at my phone at 12:48 pm, I [saw] an e-mail from the Ministry of Health saying it’s okay…everything is certified and all good so open up. But I had already sent home the crowd that was outside waiting for about 40 minutes, waiting to come in,” he explained.

The current COVID-19 cases, he said, were the first ones confirmed at the facility.

“We have over 3,500 workers and we had zero cases until just about last week,” said Becker.

Meanwhile, Minister Tufton said he is not overly perturbed when COVID-19 is discovered at a workplace as this is expected “from time to time” during the community transmission phase of the virus.

“I am not…disturbed or even overly concerned when a positive case is discovered in a workplace setting because, frankly speaking, in community transmission you expect to have these cases from time to time,” he said. “What you want to do is to be able to control it. And to control it means the protocols must be in place and what the health ministry requires when they inspect is a protocol that works. If the protocol is not in place or is not working, then that’s when they are likely to take drastic actions.”

He added that, in this case, the protocols worked so there was no need for drastic action.

Meanwhile, Gloria Henry, president of the Global Services Association of Jamaica (GSAJ), who accompanied Tufton during yesterday’s tour of the facility, urged health authorities to inform BPOs, in a timely manner, if existing protocols are amended.

“A set of guidelines were approved by the BPO Taskforce. If there is a change to those guidelines, then that must be communicated immediately to the association and its members. I am aware that we are in community spread and infections can come from a variety of sources, but we need clear and transparent guidelines and communication from all areas of the ministry. We have had a very good partnership with the Ministry of Health and Wellness and we want to continue to promote health and wellness during this pandemic, adherence to the protocols and protection of lives and jobs,” Henry told the Observer.


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