With health authorities appealing to employees in the hotel and hospitality sectors to urgently get the COVID-19 vaccine, at least two local properties have decided to offer cash to get the attention of their staff.
But the decision by management of Coral Reef Club and sister hotel The Sandpiper to give their 350 members of staff a financial nudge to take the vaccine, has resulted in mixed reactions from some sections of the public, the trade union movement and senior health officials.
In a memorandum dated June 6, 2021, directors of Coral Reef Club informed its employees that the company was offering two workers a chance to win a grand prize of $500 in a raffle draw that takes place on July 5.
“All team members except senior management who have received at least one vaccination by June 30, 2021, will be eligible to win. Team members must have had at least one Government-approved vaccination by that date and have confirmed this to us,” the memo stated.
It went on to say that so far, 114 workers have been inoculated out of a staff complement of 210.
“We encourage you to take the vaccine, not only for your own protection, but for the protection of your co-workers and loved ones also,” the staff was told.
The directors thanked the employees while suggesting “united we will beat COVID-19”.
Managing Director of Coral Reef Patrick O’Hara confirmed that the offer was an incentive aimed at getting the attention of workers to be vaccinated.
“Yes, it was adding a financial incentive to get their attention and get some of those who haven’t already had it to focus on it and give it some thought…if they are thinking ‘well leave it for now’…it doesn’t just apply to the people who haven’t had it…as a bit of a prize draw, it actually also includes people who have already had it any way,” O’Hara explained.
The hotel boss however noted that there has been some adverse feedback on the decision which he has stoutly defended.
“I know people are saying it is bribery, but we are not actually paying the person who hasn’t had a vaccine to go and have it or who may have lapsed in going to get it or may be worried about health concerns…nobody likes, as far as I know, to go and get an injection or likes needles…[they] might have been putting it off and suddenly feels ‘I should go and get this done,’” O’Hara added.
The hotel head pointed out that while there has been some negative feedback, he is also aware of many positives as well.
He said some people were critical about the amount of money being offered and suggested that in these hard times, the prize money should have been more.
One of those viewing the move as a good one is Public Health Specialist and Co-coordinator of the National COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign Dr Elizabeth Ferdinand.
“It’s a company trying to give employees an incentive to be vaccinated. It is not making it mandatory. You can’t say they are trying to make it mandatory, but just that it is offering them an incentive. I think it is reasonable. I don’t have a problem with it,” said Dr Ferdinand.
The former Chief Medical Officer (CMO) however took the opportunity to urge all workers to get vaccinated, particularly those in the tourism sector.
“Employees should realize the importance of being vaccinated, especially in the tourism and hotel sector. We from the ministry have been reaching out to all of them to come forward. But we can only reach out to them and encourage them to come,” she stated.
During the Barbados TODAY interview O’Hara said that sister hotel The Sandpiper had also introduced a similar financial incentive scheme to get its staff of about 140 vaccinated.
The Coral Reef boss, who is also a director of The Sandpiper said that that hotel was managing its own vaccine initiative.
“They have their own, but nobody took a picture of it [the memo] and posted it anywhere, so that part is under the radar at the moment…The same thing applies to Sandpiper. Their staff came over here for the talk [health talk] yesterday and to ask questions of the doctor,” O’Hara said.
He could not provide details of the Sandpiper’s cash incentive nor the response from workers and referred Barbados TODAY to its managing director Wayne Capaldi who could not be reached.
The union which represents hotel workers is also backing the financial inducement for the staff once they are not led to feel pressured or threatened.
“As long as the Coral Reef Club employees have the freedom of choice and the right not to participate if they so choose, without intimidation or reprisal, then theoretically there is nothing wrong with the offer of a ‘raffle’,” said Deputy General Secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) Dwaine Paul.
“Should those factors change however, that is, participation becomes mandatory, people are being coerced, threatened, questioned, or there is a prospect of repercussions for their actions that will infringe on their employment, then the BWU would certainly intervene to protect the rights of the employees,” Paul cautioned.
“The important factor is that from the legislative perspective, the employee’s right to the confidentiality of their medical status is protected, but it does not preclude them from willingly and freely disclosing their information to whomever they choose or for whatever purpose, in this case participating in the raffle, if they wish to do so,” the BWU deputy leader added.
Veteran trade unionist and retired General Secretary of the BWU Sir Roy Trotman did not see the cash offer as a problem either.
“If a company is trying to get people…to encourage people to sign on for vaccinations, I can’t see how you can tell a company not to do it. I don’t believe we should wait only for inducements, but there are some people who will take it…I can’t say anybody would be wrong. It should be that we are all aiming to get vaccinations,” the well-respected trade unionist stated.
“And if you are aiming to get your second vaccination and your employer says ‘well when you are going for it, you sign this piece of paper and your name will go in for a draw and you might get $500,’ I don’t see what there is about that that a person should not say yes to,” Sir Roy added.
Meanwhile, Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George opted in his comments to remind employers that whatever they did with regards to the vaccination of their workers, it should not be tied to maintaining their jobs.
“The Government of Barbados has said that vaccination should not be a condition of service for employment. However, we strongly recommend that the vaccines are safe…the vaccines are a method used to prevent the spread of COVID…and I think there is evidence to suggest that that is currently working in Barbados. That is all I have to say on that,” Dr George declared.