Some of the country’s trade union leaders are up in arms about the persistence of some employers to impose what appears to be vaccine ultimatums on workers despite a social partnership agreement to hold strain until the completion of a national process of dialogue.
General Secretary of the Unity Workers’ Union (UWU) Senator Caswell Franklyn on Thursday warned that some players in the local business community are creating the perfect conditions for general strikes and constructive dismissal claims before the law courts.
One such employer is the Lionel C Hill Supermarket, which has been under tremendous scrutiny over a memo informing employees to either be vaccinated by August 31st or present a negative COVID-19 test result on a bi-weekly basis. In the document to employees about the benefits of taking the jab, management also offers an incentive of $300 for each of the two jabs. According to the memo, those who had previously contracted COVID-19 will be given until September 30th.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Richard Ashby told Barbados TODAY that having given two months’ notice, he could no longer delay the policy and would be refusing to cover any cost attached to the COVID-19 tests.
He said with many of his 90 staff suffering with underlying conditions, it was his “obligation” to protect them.
“Those who don’t want to take the vaccine have rights and those who are pregnant and those who have diabetes also have rights and I have a right also to protect my workers, so you can decide who has the biggest right and the Supreme Court would decide that,” Ashby contended.
When asked about whether his company would consider offsetting some of the costs associated with frequent testing, Ashby said: “No. No. No. No. No. No. You are exercising your right, so go ahead, exercise it. You have a right not to take the vaccine, but you also have a right to protect the other workers and you have to go and find your negative test. That is your right, go find it.
“I have a responsibility under the [Safety and Health at work] Act to have workers working safely without any interruption in their work.
That is my responsibility. Go get your vaccine nuh, and you wouldn’t have to pay,” the CEO added.
Senator Franklyn, a veteran trade unionist however contended that employers requiring frequent COVID testing should foot the bill in the same way they would pay for a medical examination proving that their employees are fit for work.
He contended that the vaccine ultimatums are tantamount to constructive dismissal, which is a form of unfair dismissal. He noted that employers who maintain such policies are themselves guilty of promoting an unsafe working environment.
“Constructive dismissal means that an employer has taken action that you cannot tolerate. It violates your rights and you can determine that you are not going to work under those conditions and you can terminate your own services and claim compensation for unfair dismissal,” Franklyn told Barbados TODAY.
“The course that workers should take right now is a general strike and get rid of the union leaders that are collaborating with the government and employers with this nonsense.
Any one of my members that they try to enforce it on, we will take them to court. We are already consulting with lawyers,” he added.
President of the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB) Edwin O’Neal declared that he has already reached out to the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) about the circumstances under which one company has taken forceful vaccine measures.
This, he contended, is a significant deviation from the agreement of trade unions, the private sector and government during Tuesday’s social partnership meeting.
“There was never any mention at that point of mandatory testing or mandatory vaccinations so I was somewhat taken aback when I heard comments that ‘wunna’ want to force people to take vaccines,” O’Neal declared.
Meanwhile, the Barbados Employers’ Confederation (BEC) in a statement offered no support for the vaccine ultimatums, but instead endorsed the agreements made at the social partnership.
“National consultation is essential to fully ventilate the issues which include considering the balance of both personal responsibility and collective impact. Science points to the fact that vaccines significantly reduce disease transmission, serious illness and therefore also death. Consequently, we encourage persons to speak to their trusted healthcare providers and receive the vaccine where medically advised.
Surveillance also remains paramount and hence testing is also supported,” the statement said.
During a press conference last Friday, Prime Minister Mia Mottley declared that part of an employers’ duty is to provide a safe workplace.
This, she said, could extend to ensuring persons are either vaccinated or COVID-19 tested regularly, but added that the days of Government footing the bill for testing are numbered.
Attorney General Dale Marshall has since been asked to seek a legal opinion on the issue which will be discussed first at the social partnership and later in a series of national meetings.