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Wednesday, 19 January, 2022
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Private sector staff could lose jobs if they don’t comply with Covid rules, Minister says

By Orville Williams

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Individuals working in the private sector have been told that they could forfeit their employment if they refuse to comply with either the vaccination or testing requirements for Covid-19.

The government has softened its stance on vaccine mandates across the board in recent weeks, but it still requires “every owner of a business having five or more persons in his or her employ [to] mandate that such employees be vaccinated against Covid-19, unless the business has an 80 percent or higher rate of vaccination among employees”.

According to the Information Minister, Melford Nicholas, employers may take the decision to axe employees who refuse to adhere, as that refusal could threaten the safety of others.

“I could see a condition that would lead to termination. The businesses – under the guidelines of the public health advisory – [are required] to ensure that there is compliance, either in terms of vaccination or testing.

“[If] an employee makes a determination that they would not adhere to either of those requirements … I think in such circumstances, the employee would make a determination that they no longer want to be employed by the [business] because the [business] has a legal obligation to adhere to the requirements of the public health advisory,” he explained.

Late last month, it was announced that the vaccine mandates applied to both the private and public sector would be relaxed, effective December 1, meaning unvaccinated employees were free to return to work.

This decision was chalked up to an increase in the number of businesses that had been reporting an at least 80 percent vaccination rate among their staff, but it would not be smooth sailing for these unvaccinated staff, as they would still be required to undergo fortnightly testing.

Nicholas reminded yesterday, that so long as the unvaccinated employees are willing to comply with the testing regime, they cannot be forced to get inoculated.

“I imagine that [the businesses] can still encourage them to be vaccinated … the mandates go as far as to ensure that we got to the 80 percent [mark], [so] if they reach 80 percent compliance, there will be no further restrictions placed on that business to impose any further restraint on those persons who are unvaccinated.

“Which is to say that as of December 1, if a business was already at the 80 percent criteria, then all that would be required is for the remaining unvaccinated persons to submit to a regime of testing every two weeks at their cost,” Nicholas added.

The issue of job security amid vaccine mandates has been a hot topic for professionals across the world and many are still arguing for the right to choose, so Antigua and Barbuda is certainly not alone.

In the United States, for example, thousands of workers in various sectors are being terminated for refusing to comply with the mandates, while others are choosing to resign, similarly in droves, rather than get vaccinated.

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