Union wants gov’t to scrap testing fees for private sector workers

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The government says due to the lower Covid-19 risk associated with vaccinated persons, its testing requirements will continue to apply primarily to the unvaccinated. Many people advocating for the ‘rights’ of the unvaccinated have called for Covid testing to be spread across the board.
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The Antigua and Barbuda Free Trade Union (ABFTU) is calling on the government to remove the stipulation that private sector employers must foot the bill for twice monthly Covid-19 tests.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Gaston Browne, the union suggested that the government should provide these tests free of cost to all workers, citing that the cost of the tests, based on the International Labour Organisation (ILO) mandate, should be borne by the employer.

The letter which was penned by President of the ABFTU Samuel James, pointed out that mandatory Covid testing is considered an “Occupation Health and Safety Measure, and in that regard, the ILO mandates that such measures shall not involve any expenditure for workers as required by Convention No. 155”.

Government reversed its public sector mandate back in November, and as of December 1, all unvaccinated workers were allowed to return to work once they presented a negative rapid test result and subjected themselves to testing every two weeks. That testing is free of charge to them.

This, James added, should be adapted as well across all sectors.

“If it is going to be mandatory testing, it should be mandatory across the board, and as quoted in that letter we have the international backing on that and so, it should not be a controversial issue to resolve. We would accept that it may be an expensive venture, but you know that the employees did not create it, and they ought not to be paying for it. Notice that they have corrected it in the public sector, but they seem to be hesitant or afraid to deal with it in the private sector, but we shall see what happens. It is not something we intend to drop,” James said told Observer media.

He added that Division D of the Labour Code which speaks to health and safety, stipulates that the employer is responsible for ensuring the safety and welfare of the workplace, and it can be determined that such responsibility comes at the cost to the employer.

It is for those reasons that the union believes that continuing to require private sector workers to meet the cost of these tests is “unconscionable and discriminatory.”

They mentioned that they do understand the reasoning behind the mandatory testing requirement, and even suggested that if government chooses to appoint the financial obligation to employers that it would be “just and fair” to offer incentives equivalent to the costs these employers would have paid for testing.

The union however remained adamant that the cost should not be placed on workers.

Since the submission of the December 14 letter earlier this week, according to James, there has been no word from the PM or from his office. He however remains optimistic that they will receive a response in short order.

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