By Carlena Knight
Government sector workers who are seeking approval for their exemptions, whether medical or religious, will not penalised under the new vaccine mandate.
This was revealed by Information Minister Melford Nicholas on Monday on Observer radio.
The announcement comes just a few days after Cabinet revealed that Covid recoverees would be medically exempted as they cannot take the vaccine immediately after recovering from the virus.
As of Friday, unvaccinated government workers, without exemptions, were placed on unpaid leave in accordance with the new mandate.
But Nicholas says that those workers who are awaiting approval for exemptions will be asked to remain home and will still be paid for the days that they are out of office.
“On the issue of those who may have already or will apply for exemptions under medical or religious grounds, and the information that I have is that they will not be penalised for the period when they are under consideration. They will however not be required to return to work. It is only after the consideration period if they are not granted the consideration, then the penalties would apply, but between the consideration of the appeal and when it is upheld, they will not be required to return to work, and once it is approved, of course, they will get their exemption, but if it is not, then the penalties will apply if they still do not have an explanation,” Nicholas said.
Workers will now be able to seek exemptions through a new process that rolled out yesterday.
Cabinet Secretary Konata Lee spoke on the new process over the weekend on state media.
Lee explained that workers can get these exemption forms from their respective offices or download them from the government website.
For those persons who have already submitted written requests, Lee noted that these applications will also be considered.
Each applicant filling out the form will be expected to follow the guidelines outlined, and those who attempt to falsify the document will be penalised.
“It’s not intended to be frivolous. It is a very, very serious consideration for an exemption, and anyone who falsifies the information to be exempted, there are penalties that will apply. So, I will appeal now to persons that where there are legitimate grounds for their exemption, that they should apply for them and do make use of the opportunity that is provided for persons who may have medical conditions that don’t allow them to be vaccinated, or there are strong religious grounds for them not to be vaccinated. It is not intended to be an escape route for persons who simply just are not willing to comply with the vaccine mandate that stands now,” Lee said.
It is still however unclear whether the exemption requested by the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (ABUT), as far as the vaccine mandate is concerned, was approved or not, or where the ABUT stands with their proposed industrial action.