ECA: Thorny furlough issues must be sorted /

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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.»

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion fail­ure

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.

In­ter­na­tion­al ex­pe­ri­ence

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