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Global labour agency wants employers to shield workers

By Moses Michira | April 9th 2020

Employers should consider the novel Covid-19 an occupational disease for their workers, the International Labour Organisation has recommended.

Implications include requiring employers to provide sufficient coverage to protect workers from exposure through preventive measures.

As such, workers should be appropriately covered against the pandemic, and should be compensated if they get infected or die.

Employers will also be required to follow up with those who recover from the virus to help them handle post-traumatic stress.

Line of duty

This follows the exposure of various cadres of workers to the coronavirus disease, including those employed in the healthcare sector and others like Daudi Kimuyu Kibati, a Kenya Airways captain who died after contracting Covid-19 in the line of duty.

Kibati contracted the virus while on a trip to New York, currently the Covid-19 global hotspot, where he had flown to evacuate Kenyans before the country closed it borders.

After the virus was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation, workers were effectively left exposed medically as insurers would not cover related costs of managing the disease.

This would explain ILO’s stance, which further requires employers to meet all the costs of care during and after the illness among their workers.  

“Covid-19 and post-traumatic stress disorder, if contracted through occupational exposure, could be considered as occupational diseases,” said ILO.

“To the extent that workers who suffer from these conditions and are incapacitated for work, as a result of work-related activities, they should be  entitled to cash compensation and medical and allied care.”

Covid-19, which has brought the world to a standstill because of its rapid spread, is redefining conditions in the workplace, especially for healthcare workers who are at the highest risk of contracting the virus.

Owing to the high pace of transmission, many countries have been caught flat-footed and ill-prepared to contain it, battling a severe shortage of personal protective equipment even in advanced economies.

Consequently, healthcare workers have been pushed to the frontlines in dealing with the crisis but without adequate protection, making the case for terming Covid-19 an occupational hazard.

The Central Union of Trade Unions (Cotu) is backing ILO’s proposals.

Francis Atwoli, the Cotu secretary general, said employers must take all possible measures to safeguard their workers from contracting the virus, besides providing incentives to compensate those who bear the greatest exposure.

“Covid-19 must be classified as an occupational disease owing to the fact that most workers would be exposed along their lines of duty,” Mr Atwoli said.

Employers should, therefore, seek ways of offering compensation just like with any other cases of work-related injuries, according to the Cotu boss.

Incubation period

Through their unions, healthcare workers, including nurses, clinical officers and medical officers, have raised concerns about their risk of contracting the virus due to a lack of adequate protective wear.

Working at the frontline comes with major health concerns for themselves and their families as it involves interaction with patients, many who may be asymptomatic, a situation that is further complicated by the long incubation period of the disease.

Usually, before the disease is discovered, the carrier would have innocently infected tens of people, which makes Covid-19 more dangerous than many other contagious conditions.

Kibati offers stark illustration of how the virus could affect workers in the line of duty, where they end up paying the ultimate price. However, it is unclear if his family will be compensated for a work-related death.

Covid 19 Time Series


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