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Unions hit out at latest decision re Covid tests for unvaccinated civil servants

By Carlena Knight

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Two of the country’s major trade unions have expressed outrage over the government’s latest announcement that it will reduce the cost of mandatory Covid tests for unvaccinated frontline public sector workers.

During Thursday’s post-Cabinet press briefing, Information Minister Melford Nicholas announced that, after some deliberation, a decision was taken to cut the price of the rapid tests from EC$260 to EC$50 each.

However, that was the only change made to the policy as all unvaccinated frontline workers who provide direct services to arriving passengers and tourists must still either be fully vaccinated or be subjected to twice-monthly testing at their own expense.

Nicholas explained that the cost would be subsidised to make it easier on workers’ pockets.

The cost of the test and the approach taken by government were among the primary concerns raised by trade unionists who are expected to meet imminently with officials to discuss a solution.

But yesterday, the President of the Antigua and Barbuda Public Service Association (ABPSA), Joan Peters, and the General Secretary of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU), David Massiah, shared their displeasure with what they term blatant “disrespect” meted out by the government which gazetted the new policy ahead of the meeting.

“I will still say that the government continues to be very disrespectful at times in addressing issues that are affecting the masses, affecting the people that they represent,” Massiah said.

“The government knows that there is a problem that the workers’ representatives are asking for an audience to sit down and discuss. Before you go and mandate anything else, why don’t you just sit down and have that discussion?

“When you look at the situation in Barbados, they are sitting and meeting with all of the stakeholders to come up with a solid position that is basically a common interest for the world.

“Why can’t we have that similar respect from the government before you basically go mandating things and then doing this and take this and leave this?

“I think the government continues to approach everything that they are doing in a very negative and dictatorial way and that is why we will always have confrontations that is unnecessary,” he added.

Massiah said that subsidising the cost of the tests is not an olive branch on behalf of the government, as referenced by Minister Nicholas, claiming it will still put many residents in hardship.

His sentiments were echoed by Peters who not only shared her disapproval but went a step further to say that her members will not be taking the tests despite this cutting of the cost.

“Even if it is reduced, we are not accepting that. Once it is still going to be mandatory, then it is a no-no,” she said.

“I am not telling my members to have the test conducted once it is mandatory. I must have a free choice in whether I want to take the test or not. It’s costly and it is still mandatory and if the government want me to do a test it means that they have to bear the cost of it. I not paying no money.

“We as the {Trade Union Congress] have not spoken about it as yet, but I do believe that they, too, will say the same thing, because that is what we have been saying all the while,” Peters added.

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