IT professionals are essential workers
Editor's WriteWednesday, May 05, 2021
It's time to consider IT professionals as essential workers under the Disaster Risk Management Act as technology has become more critical to all aspects of our national life since the onset of the pandemic and our first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Jamaica last March.
In the early rounds of containment measures, the Government of Jamaica identified several non-traditional industries as essential services. This classification was intentionally expanded from security, firefighting and other emergency services, utility providers and health-care workers to include industries such as food distribution, pharmacies, construction, along with banking and finance as examples.
Essential services have evolved beyond the daily tasks vital to preserving life, health and public safety to include services that support basic societal functioning. In short, the services Jamaicans rely on in their daily lives.
We at the Jamaica Digital and Technology Alliance (JDTA) strongly believe a case can be made for IT firms and practitioners to be on the list of essential services providers. The systems we implement, support, and maintain are part of the critical infrastructure backbone that allows continuous day-to-day operation of most, if not all, industries deemed “essential”. As the pandemic progressed, these industries have become more dependent on our work so they can deliver their services. Mission-critical systems provide uninterrupted service while needing to be maintained and upgraded. The very times when general movement is rightly restricted are the hours when IT specialists work to ensure business continuity. These tasks are typically performed during times when user activity is at its lowest, which generally is at nights, on weekends and holidays.
During the early stages of the pandemic, our IT firms and practitioners were not classified as essential services since we could obtain letters of exemption from representatives of the essential services to allow movement during curfew hours. But in recent times, these organisations have not been readily available to respond to emergencies. IT firms now provide staff with letters of explanation in case they are rightly stopped during curfew hours.
Over the past two months, we have seen the Government's necessary implementation of strict lockdown measures. With the likelihood of continuation and the increased use of technology to support balancing lives and livelihood, the time is right for our inclusion.
As for the future, we believe the evident importance and dependency on technology will only increase as we digitise our services and, by extension, our society. IT services are essential to the essential services themselves. Therefore, we recommend including our IT firms and practitioners under Section 5 of the Third Schedule of the Gazette; Proclamations, Rules and Regulations under the Disaster Risk Management Act.
We appeal to the minister with portfolio responsibility for technology and his Cabinet colleagues to deliberate and consider including IT firms and providers in the permanent definition of “essential services” and confer them with the ability to move during curfews and national emergencies.
Guest column by the Jamaica Digital and Technology Alliance (JDTA)
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