One human resource expert is predicting that workers in some industries in Barbados will not be able to escape taking the COVID-19 vaccine or have regular testing, as Barbadians remain split on the issue.
Several private sector companies, especially those in the tourism and hospitality industry, have already informed staff that they would be required to be vaccinated against the viral illness or do weekly testing.
However, some lawyers have been arguing that mandating vaccination was unlawful and could result in more employees taking their employers to court over the decision.
President of the Human Resources Management Association of Barbados (HRMAB) Brittany Brathwaite told Barbados TODAY she believed the decisions being made were based heavily on economic drivers as well as what was happening in other territories.
“We have to look at what the economic drivers are in our country in relation to what other persons’ economic drivers are and the policies we are seeing in those territories. For us, we can recognise tourism as a huge driver. As a nation, we must be cognizant that if there are solutions on the table and we do want economic activity to return to a semblance of normality there has to be some solution that we grasp,” said Brathwaite.
Faced with an increase in the Delta variant of the coronavirus which is said to spread more easily, more than a dozen countries, including Antigua and Barbuda, have already announced that it would be mandatory for people in some sectors to take the COVID- 19 vaccine.
An increasing number of countries and companies are also requiring a negative COVID-19 result from individuals in order for business to be conducted or take part in some activities.
Officials in Barbados, through the Social Partnership, held talks today to determine what direction the country will take.
“I recognise some persons are saying they don’t want to be vaccinated and because it is not a national policy mandate they don’t want their civil liberty removed. That is okay,” observed Brathwaite.
“But in the context of having an infectious disease, a pandemic, then we need to take all reasonable steps to ensure that we mitigate or be able to track those persons who don’t have a vaccinated status. Testing would become the next logical step,” explained Brathwaite.
Yesterday, the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP) called for mandatory vaccination of all frontline healthcare workers, among other recommendations.
Brathwaite told Barbados TODAY: “I foresee, based on what I am seeing in other territories and as I speak with other HR practitioners around the world, that we can anticipate some industry-specific mandates around either vaccination or testing.
“Just from an economic perspective, if we don’t go there at some point and as economists have said, we are going to continuously stagnate. I don’t think it is fair for anybody, employers and employees, to expect that there is going to be unfettered access going forward particularly in a touch-point industry,” said Brathwaite.
Notwithstanding the discussions being held at the level of the Social Partnership, she said “I do think that based on everything else we are seeing, nationally policy wise and internationally, the outcome will be some level of mandatory vaccination or as an option, testing for those who choose not to be vaccinated in specific industries.
“If I were to call it I would say that the medical industry as well as tourism may be high on the [list] for those two things,” added Brathwaite.
She said in the absence of a national mandate, companies should be careful to create very detailed policies with some level of flexibility that gave the option of testing.
Brathwaite told Barbados TODAY she was encouraging HR practitioners to engage with their legal team to figure out what “proactive policies” should be introduced regarding future employment.
She also stressed the need for the engagement of staff before policies are imposed in an effort to manage expectations.
“You need to engage and really go through the nuances of what a testing policy, for example, would look like and whether you can impose it on existing contracts and if that is a restriction, if you can impose it on new contracts, and really fully ventilate those things with people who are well versed in the legal area. Please do not take advice that we are seeing on social media as definitive advice.
There are nuances to every single case. “In the second instance, they should be making clear, as they should have previously, what their policy is around COVID-19 and COVID-19 leave because it has not disappeared. So if a person was to contract or transmit what would that look like. And then be constantly engaging with your team members as you engage with your legal authority, what may be feasible for the company in the future,” she explained.
Officials have not yet addressed concerns of whether companies who request staff members to be vaccinated would also require people the staff members come in contact with to be vaccinated.
Questions around liability have also been raised by individuals about whether their employers or Government would take responsibility should they develop complications related to the vaccine in the future. ([email protected])