A clarification on Tuesday to the decree on the number of people allowed to work on the premises of businesses permitted to remain open during the latest Covid restrictions, fell short of a request by business leaders that it be revised.
Under the health ministry original decree, private businesses in the services sector by and large must work from home. Only up to 15 per cent of the staff may be at the business premises, although in absolute numbers no more than 20 persons are allowed at any given time. Three employees are allowed irrespective of the number of total personnel.
The number is rounded up where applicable. For instance, a business with 10 employees can have up to three persons working in the office.
And an office employing 50 staff can have up to eight working at any time.
On Sunday a number of trade and employer organisations urged the government to revise the rules on the maximum number of people allowed to work, arguing that for many businesses the cap of 20 persons was too low to carry out their essential work.
On Tuesday, the health ministry issued an updated Q&A clarifying how many persons are allowed to work in an office.
It said that where a company operates out of more than one premises, the 15 per cent limit on in-house staff applies to each building or office.
The previous guideline said the 15 per cent applied to a business’ entire staff. The 20-person cap remains.
The restrictions also apply to companies engaged with manufacturing, construction and architecture.
For example, only 20 persons at most are allowed to work inside an architect’s office at any one time. This does not include people who perform out-of-office tasks, such as construction site inspectors.
The slight revision on Tuesday is unlikely to satisfy business leaders. The demand for more had come from those in the services sector, the Employers and Industrialist Federation, the Chambers of Commerce, chartered accountants, the Shipping Chamber and insurance companies all of which asked President Nicos Anastasiades to do away with the cap altogether, and to raise the percentage of allowable in-house staff from the current 15 per cent to 25 per cent.
The Bar Association asked for the same. The services professions say that the 20-person cap is nowhere near enough for large businesses – employing 100 people or more – to perform their minimum tasks.
“Say you have 500 employees, where 15 per cent would translate to 75 staff, but the actual cap is 20, it means the rest working from home cannot fulfill all their tasks remotely… they need to be at the office,” Marios Tsiakkis, head of the Chamber of Commerce, told the state broadcaster.
He said many tasks, by their nature, can be performed only at the office. For instance a number of documents and certificates filed to government agencies must be in hard copy.
And the fixed 20-person ceiling seems unrealistic, as it doesn’t factor in the surface area of business premises.
Tsiakkis suggested instead that these businesses be allowed to space one person per 20 square metres. Companies would ensure their staff practice social distancing and don’t congregate in cafeterias.
Christos Clerides, head of the Bar Association, likewise told CyBC that if lawyers have no access to their office they can’t prepare for cases, meet clients, or draft legal briefs.
These are tasks that can’t be done remotely.
The health ministry counters that they’re concerned about transmission of the coronavirus within offices, and that the taking of protective measures cannot be left to businesses.
Speaking to the Cyprus Mail, Tsiakkis said they have no reason to doubt the government’s contention about Covid-19 transmission in offices.
But, he added, to date the government hasn’t shown them the data.