The opening debate of this week’s States sitting – the first since the summer recess and the lifting of most of the Island’s remaining restrictions – saw Members overwhelmingly back a last-minute proposition by Environment Minister John Young that those who wished to work from home should be able to do so.
Although there was some concern about setting a precedent, and the fact that Deputy Young’s emergency proposition was not circulated until 11pm on the eve of the meeting, Members voted by 40-4 in favour of the move.
The decision meant the meeting was immediately adjourned for 45 minutes to allow time for the necessary technology to be put in place, and for those Members wishing to work remotely to return home.
Deputy Young said Jersey and other jurisdictions were emerging from the ‘acute phase’ of the pandemic and that while some people were acting as if Covid-19 was all over, he did not share that view.
He said: ‘We are moving from government controlling the response to this vicious, nasty disease to personal individual responsibility where we make our own choices.’
While stressing several times that ‘it’s not about me’, the minister also pointed out that he was aged 75 and had received his second Covid vaccine more than six months ago, with evidence that immunity levels started to wane from that point.
He also mentioned the deaths of two people in Alderney, where he has a home, as evidence of the continuing threat posed by the virus.
Health Minister Richard Renouf said it would be invidious to compel people to act in a way which made them feel uncomfortable.
Deputy Rob Ward said he had reservations about ministers using the opportunity to work remotely as an excuse to ‘sit in Broad Street while their officials give them advice’.
Several Members expressed concern about the inadequate ventilation and cramped seating in the States Chamber, which was built during the 1870s. At least ten Members wore face masks or shields while the debate took place.
Deputy Kirsten Morel was critical of the ‘flawed’ proposition, saying the short notice had robbed Members of the chance to propose amendments to remove these flaws, while Deputy Inna Gardiner was concerned that Members could opt to work remotely purely because they wished to do so.
‘It brings into question the whole fundamentals of do we need this Assembly at all? Do we need to come in here for ceremonial purposes?’ asked Deputy Montfort Tadier, adding: ‘You get into a very grey area about what is a legitimate reason [for working remotely].’
Four Members voted against Deputy Young’s proposition – Constables Mike Jackson and Philip Le Sueur and Deputies Mary Le Hegarat and Steve Ahier, while Deputy Gardiner abstained.
Following the support for Deputy Young’s proposition, and the subsequent adjournment, approximately two-thirds of the 49 elected Members remained based in the States Assembly building for the remainder of the day’s business, while the remainder opted to work remotely.