The group at the centre of a campaign against forceful vaccination policies is focusing its attention more squarely on local employers, as it intensifies calls for a boycott of offending establishments.
But the management of a financial institution that has come under the microscope of the Steering Committee for Barbados Concerned Citizens Against Mandated and Coerced Vaccination is vehemently refuting any claims of a move toward forced vaccines or vaccine intimidation.
The committee has taken issue with a memo that management of Republic Bank (Barbados) Limited sent to all staff “strongly encouraging” them to be vaccinated and warning that “now is not the time to be divided on this issue”.
The memo, dated August 13, 2021 and titled “A Communal Responsibility”, touted the bank’s ability to minimize the risk of COVID-19 spread through various measures that resulted in less than 10 positive cases among staff since the start of the pandemic. Managing Director Anthony Clerk noted that not all frontline staff had accepted a previous opportunity to be vaccinated and acknowledged there were differing views on the matter.
As a result, staff were informed of the series of town hall meetings intended to assist them in making informed decisions.
“I implore all of you who can take the vaccine but are unwilling to do so, to reconsider,” Clerk told employees.
“The evidence is there that in populations where the level of vaccination is high, the rise in cases has been stemmed and hospital admissions have declined. Additionally, the data has also shown that the significant majority of new cases, hospital admissions and deaths are among unvaccinated persons. The vaccines have proven their efficacy in keeping the vaccinated and their close contacts safer than otherwise.
“We have encouraged you to be your brothers’ and sisters’ keepers by observing all COVID safety protocols. We strongly encourage you to continue to do so and to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus as we navigate our way to normalcy, together. Now is not the time for the organisation to become divided on this issue. As always, we remain stronger together,” the correspondence further contended.
However, Steering Committee Coordinator, Winston Clarke has revealed that employees have been reaching out to him expressing concerns about the implications of the memo in light of the current climate.
“They are not forcing them, but we know what [businesses] have been doing when they don’t force persons to take the vaccine,” Clarke contended.
“None of them is stating that they will force you, but they will ask you to go every other week and pay $100 or more to get a PCR test and get an uncomfortable, intrusive procedure in your nose every other week.”
When contacted for clarity on the bank’s position, Manager, Marketing and Corporate Communications, Sophia Allsopp declared that the steps taken were simply to allow staff the opportunity to “have their questions answered by credible sources”.
“The Bank believes a key part of its response to the crisis is ensuring the safety and peace of mind of all staff, through the provision of accurate information that will allow members to make well-informed decisions for the benefit of themselves, their families and the wider community,” she said in a statement.
“While Republic Bank keenly supports the Barbados Government and the Ministry of Health and Wellness in its vaccination programme, the Bank currently has no policy of mandatory vaccination of its staff.”
Although COVID-19 PCR tests are still free, Prime Minister Mia Mottley has already indicated that this may not continue for much longer, especially because people already have the option of being vaccinated at the expense of Government.
Clarke believes this opens the door to further vaccine manipulation from employers, prompting him to compile a list of offending companies that supporters should boycott. The list includes restaurants, hotels, a financial institution and a supermarket.
Chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA), Edward Clarke, however, told Barbados TODAY that his organisation would not be drawn in by the threats, especially as they await a national process of dialogue on the issue. But he repeated calls for businesses to tread carefully in the interim.
“Members have been advised that the Prime Minister has asked us to have consultation, which we are doing, and that a decision will be made at the next social partnership meeting,” he said.
“I think you would have heard when we asked members to hold off any decisions pending that outcome.”
He added: “We can only advise, but people have businesses to run and some business people may want to make their own decisions. We can try to advise and influence, but ultimately it is not our decision. It is every individual business’ decision how they want to proceed.”
The Steering Committee is, however, maintaining a more militant approach.
“What we are advising is that we boycott these companies because we have to care for our workers. There are people who have an obligation to their families and quite a few of them have been contacting the Steering Committee and have been telling us ‘I don’t want to take this’,” Clarke said.
“We will not only boycott them physically after I have sent the letters to them and they do not ease the pressure that they have placed on the employees. We will go on social media and discourage people from going there, even if we have to send it overseas, because some of these are hotels and restaurants.
“We will put it on TripAdvisor, we will send it to travel agencies, we will do everything in our power to discourage people from having anything to do with them,” Clarke vowed.