Part-time employees: who they are, what they get

Things are not getting better for those marginalised in our society. People laid off applying for government grants promised by the Prime Minister before the election are still having trouble getting them. Restaurants and fast-food places are still only open for those able to line up and take away, if they keep their distance lining up; and many people, once permanently employed wage-earners, as markets shrank and shrank, are now, if they are lucky, hanging on with part-time employment of one kind or another.

Part-time employment can be organised in different ways and, as a result, different conditions apply under our current labour legislation. It can be for core hours, as banks and other establishments realised years ago, in their designated high seasons: Christmas, Carnival, book-buying time for school opening, etc.

This is for a given contractual period, and once the high season ends, so does the employment. This is known from in front, before being employed and legally is referred to as seasonal work or a seasonal contract. If the worker is seen as being productive, responsible and having a customer service attitude that is courteous and helpful, they are often hired in the same capacity year after year.

Then there are seasonal or project workers: workers hired for their skills and abilities in relation to a specific project. In the private sector these were often employed in what used to be called normal times to work on Carnival-related projects, which often requires very highly skilled people such as wire-benders, costume designers, musical composers, pan tuners, events co-ordinators and those engineering types who know how to mount and unmount steelbands to and from trucks.

At other times of the year they may mainly be hired to do intermittent projects in construction and repair work, and in that capacity are termed project workers. These are not covered under the Minimum Wages Act, as they are mainly highly skilled workers who negotiate their own wages, which are usually much higher than the $17.50 per hour minimum wage, but at any rate must not be paid less than that amount.

In the public sector, CEPEP workers, who are also called project workers, may be hired in maintenance gangs for roadside grass-cutting. Whether the contracts are permanent, or for what is called “time certain,” I do not know.

But I am told that their jobs are given out on rotation, two weeks on, two weeks off, so they would not be permanent in the usual sense, but as rostered casuals. This was a system that at one time was used on the port, and by some manufacturing companies where a list of casuals was kept and on days when a few were needed, the ones on the top of the list would be given work. It was their choice whether they turned up or not. as they were genuinely casual.

Then there are what are termed permanent part-time workers, those who may now be employed, for example, for two days a week or three hours a day, every day of the week as maintenance workers for otherwise deteriorating properties closed owing to lack of business. These are now not just restaurants, but noticeably offices and homes abandoned when people could no longer pay rent; churches, closed off and abandoned or used as hiding holes for stashes of illegal drugs. Or they may be care workers needed to help disabled, elderly, mentally fragile, or other family members who need transport to and from daycare centres.

These are all permanent part-time workers. By law, they are covered by the Minimum Wages Act and must earn the minimum wage, whether they work one hour a day or three sets of three hours in a day, but in any case may not work more than ten hours at a stretch, or 40 hours a week.

Where confusion frequently sets in is when one such worker asks for the statutory two-week vacation with pay, and the incredulous employer wants to know: “Why, when you only work two days a week, do you need two weeks’ paid vacation? You already get five days free every week.”

That is not the point, of course. A permanent part-time worker who works two or three, or four days a week is still entitled to two calendar weeks off every year as paid leave.

They will not be paid 14 calendar days’ pay. They are due two weeks’ pay – the same two weeks’ pay they would have earned during the time they usually worked. As most part-time workers are paid on a daily basis or an hourly-rated daily-paid basis, this is easy enough to calculate with a primary-school arithmetic background.

Likewise, the law provides that a daily-rated, weekly-paid permanent part-time worker is to be granted up to two weeks’ payment during illness, provided they have been employed for at least six months and they produce a medical certificate from a registered medical practitioner if they are to be absent for more than two of their normal working days. For less than two days, the worker is expected to call and let their employer know they will be absent, but no certificate is required. Such pay is calculated as the difference between the worker’s normal pay and their entitlement to sickness benefit under the National Insurance Act.

There is no law that requires an employer to pay a permanent part-time worker, a seasonal worker or a casual or rostered worker for quarantine leave in the event that they are put under quarantine owing to their or a family member or close associate’s testing positive for the virus.

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