By Orville Williams
The $150 fee that was recently reduced by the government to $50 for bi-weekly Covid testing within the public sector, has been completely removed, meaning employees will now be required to pay nothing for the tests.
That disclosure was made in this week’s post-Cabinet report, with the government noting the sustained objections from the Trade Union Congress (TUC).
The TUC – a grouping of all the major trade unions across the island – criticised the government when it was initially announced that the frontline workers who remain unvaccinated would be subject to bi-weekly Covid testing at their own expense.
The body lashed out against the ‘authoritarian’ nature of that decision, particularly the fact that they were not consulted prior, and spoke out against the financial burden this move would place on the workers, many of whom were still reeling from the impact of the pandemic.
The government belatedly agreed to have a discussion with the body, but after some back-and-forth about the logistics of that discussion, it appeared to have been thrown out the window completely.
The post-Cabinet report stated that, “The Cabinet received a letter from the TUC, indicating its unwillingness to participate in any further consultations with the Cabinet on the issue.”
It also pointed out – in maintaining the bi-weekly testing requirement, albeit at no cost to the workers – that, “the TUC could not reasonably expect the Cabinet to halt its successful decision-making until [it] changed its mind.”
Information Minister, Melford Nicholas, acknowledged that the removal of the cost was instigated by the TUC’s pushback, along with the government’s assessment of the cost implications.
He disclosed that the Health Ministry is preparing to offer the testing to the public sector workers at two of the sites currently being used for vaccinations, the Multipurpose Centre and the Villa Polyclinic.
More locations could be added for the testing, depending on the volume of people that require it, and additional personnel may need to be trained to again, meet the demand.
The Cabinet noted that the free testing will be offered to all public sector workers – whether employed by the Central Government, its Statutory organisations, its Public Authorities or Public Corporations.
It also advised that all persons that are required to get tested bi-weekly, must do so via a Health Ministry-approved Rapid Antigen test.
Additionally, institutions in which people are housed, including the prisons, the Fiennes Institute, the Clarevue Hospital, the Home for Girls, the Boys Training School and others, will have the same policy applied to their employees and to the adults living within.
Provisions are also being made to allow private sector workers to benefit from the subsidised $50 Covid test.
Despite the removal of the cost, the TUC maintains that it is still not on board with the bi-weekly testing requirement. The body’s President, Vernest Mack, told Observer that, ‘even if [the government] removes the cost, the requirement is still discriminatory to the unvaccinated.’
She maintains that the testing should be applied to everyone, since those who are vaccinated could still spread the infection to others.