Chambers welcome ‘safe zone’ for public-sector employees

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A handful of people outside the Inland Revenue Division, Ministry of Finance, Port of Span. Trade unions oppose the government’s plan for public sector employees to be vaccinated. – FILE PHOTO/ROGER JACOB

Two business chambers welcomed and commended the government’s announcement of “safe zone” legislation for state-sector employees, which takes effect in mid-January.

Amcham, in a media release on Saturday, said the issue was a sensitive one and the decision was not taken lightly.

“We hope that these measures combined with responsible individual behaviour will result in fewer deaths and lower infection rates as a result of covid19.

“We also look forward to the inclusion of the private sector in the legislation that will be brought to the Parliament so that businesses will also have the legal clarity to designate their facilities as ‘safe zones.'”

On December 13, Amcham, Trinidad and Tobago (TT) Chamber and the Energy Chamber called for the government to put in place legislation to allow businesses to make their business places safe zones so that all private-sector employees must be vaccinated, with the exception of those who cannot take the jab on medical advice,

The business groups also lobbied for all public-sector employees to be vaccinated in an effort to make all public buildings safe zones.

On Saturday, Dr Rowley said public-sector employees must be vaccinated to work in person at government offices, and their refusal will result in salaries not being paid.

He said, “The government workplace is going to change. Come mid-January we insist that the government workplace would require vaccinated workers.”

“If you are not in a position to come to the workplace you will be on leave on your own, and furloughed.

“We will put things in place to identify such status and persons who are not prepared or for reasons other than medically certified, the government workplace will require you show your vaccination status.”

TT Chamber CEO Gabriel Faria added that the few solutions to reduce the hospitalisation and death rates, as well as low vaccination rates, left the government with no choice.

“Our government has made a bold decision with a single-minded purpose to do what is right for TT, our citizens and economy.

“The point of these interventions is not to restrict personal freedoms. It is to preserve them and prevent lockdowns or heavier restrictions,” Faria said.

Faria said as the single largest employer in the country, the government has set out a framework for other employers to follow and this approach must be a joint effort.

But president of the Greater San Fernando Area Chamber of Commerce president Kiran Singh said there were many grey areas which needed to be clarified.

He said at this time vaccination was still not mandatory, but declaration of vaccination status for government employees will soon be mandatory.

“At this time TT’s legal system does not have a law mandating citizens to get a covid vaccine. We anticipate further clarification on the legal aspects of this move. The AG will be engaged in either amending the existing laws or drafting new legislation to enact the furloughing and non-payment of salaries to public servants.

“We also await an updated statement from the Industrial Court on workers’ rights with respect to the government’s new vaccination policies.”

Attorney General Faris al-Rawi said the Public Health Ordinance will be amended in January to give effect to the proposed move.