The Employers Consultative Association of T&T (ECA) believes that stakeholders must meet and sort out all thorny issues that will arise out of the Government’s decision to furlough public sector employees who are not vaccinated.
Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced that from mid-January they will be creating «safe zones» in the public sector and if employees are not vaccinated, they will not be allowed into the workplace and they will not be paid.
He complained that the vaccinated rate among workers in the public sector is still too low while many people are sick and dying.
The Prime Minister gave statistics that showed that 49 per cent of police officers are vaccinated, while only 20 per cent of fire officers are vaccinated and in the Immigration Service just 25 per cent are vaccinated.
In a press conference on Thursday, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said that the Government will not abandon its decision.
The trade union movement has criticised the Government’s decision saying the Government is taking the wrong approach in getting workers vaccinated.
Last week, the National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) described the Government’s decision as inhumane.
Getting vaccinated important
The ECA which represents employers’ interests and advocates on their behalf in a statement to the Sunday Guardian said they strongly support mechanisms to deal with potential conflicts that may arise when the Government implements its policy in January.
«As we now know, consultation has begun between the Government as employer and the representatives of the workers employed by the State. As the ECA, we strongly support this mechanism for resolving ‘potential conflicts’ or attitudes towards the proposed vaccination policy. That said, we are hopeful that there will be a meeting of the minds very soon, in the best interests of all concerned. The process cannot be protracted if we are to abate the spread of the virus and its disastrous impact on life, health, and economy of the country. With the current trajectory of the virus in T&T, the Government as any management group, will be compelled to make some hard decisions for the greater good of the entire nation, in the short and longer term.»
The ECA also advised the Government to continue its plans to get all eligible citizens vaccinated or else there would be a negative impact on businesses and workers’.
«The average employee, in both the public and private sector is weary of the restricted lifestyle and associated fall-out brought about by the pandemic. So yes, employee morale is low and will get lower, if we do not arrest the spread of the virus and its seriously negative effects, especially on the unvaccinated. Every other COVID-19 infection, hospitalisation and death has an impact on workers’ morale. This along with possible job losses are some of the issues taking a toll on employees’ morale. Some are also uneasy around their unvaccinated colleagues and constantly looking over their shoulder to avoid close contact. When colleagues contract the virus and are absent from work for weeks, or perhaps never return, those who are on the job are faced with additional workloads etc. This being our reality, our advice is for the Government to continue its efforts towards full vaccination of all eligible citizens. The risk of serious illness and death is grave enough, and the financial investment made in acquiring the vaccines on behalf of all of us, must yield a positive return, especially in tough economic times.»
While trade unions have expressed their strong disapproval of the Government’s decision, the ECA said that there are legal mechanisms in place to deal with industrial relations disputes.
«Employers in different sectors of the economy, including the public sector, handle lawsuits and trade disputes as a normal part of management while continuing to run their organisations and deliver services. We must remember as well that there is legislation in T&T which governs the management of labour disputes, pursuit of lawsuits etc., and which unions, employees and employers must honour in addressing any issue that may arise between parties.»
The ECA also warned that resources in all its forms, including the availability of health care workers, will soon run out if citizens continue to only seek their individual interests and preferences.
» The buck stops with the Government, and as the largest employer they must do what they can within the law to sustain life and employment and provide the best level of service to all citizens.»
Former Public Administration Minister Dr Rudrawatee Nan Gosine-Ramgoolam and university lecturer in management studies blames the Government for an ineffective communication policy which has resulted in a large part of the population being unwilling to be vaccinated.
While she told the Sunday Guardian that she is «pro-vaccine» she believes the method the Government is using to get public servants to be vaccinated is the wrong one.
«I am worried about the public service. With human beings, you do not use the carrot and stick approach. That approach was in the days of slavery. The slaves were not allowed to think. Now in modern times, we are schooled and educated. Our leadership styles and communication styles must change.»
She urged the Government to change its communication strategy and to go out into the villages and rural areas and other areas that are not easily accessible to inform people that the science shows that the best way to protect themselves and their families during the pandemic is to get vaccinated.
She declined to comment on what impact the «no vaccine, no pay» policy will have on public servants saying «it’s too early to tell.»
She also said the public servants are humans too and if they are not properly informed by the Government of the benefits of being vaccinated it is obvious, they will be afraid to take the vaccines.
T&T is not the only country that has taken this route and other countries have begun attempting measures to deny Government workers their salaries and prevent them from entering the workplace if they are not vaccinated.
In the Caribbean, Antigua and Barbuda implemented a vaccine mandate for public sector employees in October.
Commenting on the matter in September, outgoing Public Services Association (PSA) President Watson Duke said Antigua and Barbuda and T&T are «two different areas and if the Government of Dr Rowley was to try that here there will be political fallouts.»
In St Vincent and the Grenadines in early December, at least 32 police officers either resigned or retired from the St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force, while 13 others have not taken the vaccine under the government’s mandatory programme to get frontline workers inoculated against COVID-19.
The St Vincent government had enacted legislation mandating COVID-19 vaccines for teachers and other frontline workers.
The Government of Canada will require employees in all federally regulated workplaces to be vaccinated against COVID-19 taking effect in early 2022.
LINK ORIGINAL: The Trinidad Guardian