Government extends grace period for workers seeking vaccine exemptions

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By Carlena Knight

Public sector workers who are seeking exemptions for the Covid-19 vaccine mandate will now have an extended period to submit these forms.

The revelation came after the President of Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (A&BUT) Kimdale Mackellar took the government to task over the lack of communication and late distribution of the medical and religious exemption forms.

According to Mackellar, Cabinet’s actions are continuously short-changing his members since distribution of the forms began on Monday, with the expectation that workers seeking exemption had to notify their Permanent Secretary (PS) or head of department no later than Wednesday.

He also expressed concern that the deadline for completing and submitting the requests for exemption should be done no later than Friday.

“We find out that today is the deadline for persons to submit their intent to get an exemption from the PS and heads of departments, and we are saying look yesterday for today, that’s crazy. We are saying we know this thing was coming, several teachers would have gone to their doctors and to their religious leaders and gotten letters; the details weren’t there and now we are looking at the document we realise that those people may have to go back again to those doctors and religious leaders because of how the form that they sent out are designed.

“People don’t have enough information and you may not be able to reach your doctor again because of the influx of people, because we are not talking about teachers alone, this involves all government workers and so you may not get an appointment until a few weeks later,” Mackellar said.

But Cabinet Secretary Konata Lee clarified the subject of deadlines while speaking to this newsroom, and revealed that there will be an extended grace period given to all public sector workers seeking exemptions despite the stipulated deadlines, as there was a delay with the distribution of forms to the various government offices.

“The fact is the forms were not available when they should have been. There are many internal reasons why they were not made available and because they were not available, there has to be some discretion, some accommodation for the timelines. The most important thing is that persons indicate that they are willing to or are seeking an exemption, and that is what will be the most significant thing to consider after these are processed. I know they are looking at the date of the 8th which is Friday but all of that has been taken into account and there will be accommodations for that,” Lee explained.

“So, I don’t want persons to focus on the dates of the 8th just have the forms submitted and completed by the doctors, in the case of the medical exemptions, and submitted to the body who will adjudicate the religious exemptions. I think that is where the focus ought to be, not to sensationalise or to create any division between the teachers union or any other union for that matter and the government; we all have a common goal in mind and that is to keep everyone safe in the workplace,” he added.

  A specific timeline for how long this grace period will be extended for has not yet been determined but according to Lee, there could possibly be an amendment to the dates, and this was expected to be discussed in Cabinet yesterday.

He reiterated that there is no intention to have anyone unfairly displaced or penalised, but instead to have everyone working safely and productively under the circumstances.

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