The Government has not gone far enough to implement work-from-home arrangements in ministries and departments as a viable strategy to counter the spread of COVID-19, Acting General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Wayne Waldron has suggested.
As the current administration pursues herd immunity, it is equally important to push the ‘baseline’ strategies like physical distancing within the workplace, Waldron told Barbados TODAY.
He also underscored the union’s position of voluntary vaccination, warning that any deviation from these principles and the introduction of regular mandatory testing, even within the private sector, could lead to more “resistance” and “unrest”.
Waldron said: “Despite all the debate about mandatory testing, the reality is that a lot of people are dropping their guards on the baseline protocols because these are the protocols that worked successfully before we had the whole big discussion about vaccinations and vaccines being available.
“Work-from-home policies is something we were asking the Ministry of the Public Service to impress on Heads of Departments, including Permanent Secretaries to emphasise a bit further the Government’s fight to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“In our estimation, there is still a lot that can be done to pursue working from home. We sense that some departments are reluctant to fully endorse it, and there are some senior-level persons who seem not to be too amenable to the whole home working,” he added.
Over the last week, numerous Government departments, including the Royal Barbados Police, Barbados Drug Service, Urban Development Commission and Rural Development Commission, have become active COVID-19 clusters.
“In all fairness, there are some areas of work that cannot be done from home; one understands that,” Waldron said. “But we have seen evidence of instances where definitely there can be more increase in home-working to help mitigate against the whole spread of Coronavirus, and I think that is where the problem is — the lack of utilisation of the home-working to a higher level so that you can have increased physical distance and minimise the whole overcrowding at work, and not being safe in terms of the number of persons in the office space at any given time.”
Over the weekend, details about a highly anticipated legal opinion on mandatory vaccine policy became available, suggesting that employers may find it difficult to attract support from the law courts without legislative backing.
According to Waldron, although herd immunity is being touted as the key to full economic reopening, employees ought to maintain their freedom of choice on a matter that is constantly evolving.
He said: “We even think the whole idea of PCR testing every week or two weeks is intimidation and bully tactics, because, imagine that mother working for the minimum wage of $340 [per week] and you ask her to do a PCR test every two weeks for $80, it comes down to intimidation and bullying, and we don’t support that.
“So, measures that put undue pressure on workers to go and get vaccinated or else it would cost you otherwise is a form of intimidation and discrimination, and we do not approve of that.”
Pointing to vaccination mandates pursued in Guyana, Antigua and Barbuda and St Vincent and the Grenadines, Waldron encouraged the Government to maintain a relatively liberal approach on the issue.
“I would suggest that we continue to push public education, suasion, and still respect that reservations would still be tied into the drug,” he said.
“If you go the route of forced vaccination, then I could see a level of resistance that could create unrest and people protesting in terms of having solidarity action to show that they feel strongly about a drug that is evolving; and, therefore, I think Caribbean governments should be prudent in their approach.”