I believe that everybody has a right to decide how they proceed in terms of taking a vaccination or not. I don’t think that right could be ignored but with the exercising of that right, you have to also take responsibility for whatever consequences that may or may not occur, so that every individual is honestly aware of that as well.
Those were the words of Private Sector Representative in the Upper House of Parliament, Senator Christopher De Allie in an exclusive interview with THE NEW TODAY last week Thursday as he addressed the controversial issue of COVID-19 vaccination, which has become a condition of employment for persons who are currently employed within the hotel sector.
The COVID-19 vaccination drive being undertaken by the Keith Mitchell-led administration is receiving a mixed response from locals even amid the requirement of some private sector bosses for employees to get vaccinated in order to keep their jobs.
The labour movement, through the President of the Grenada Trades Union Council (GTUC), and Labour Representative in the Upper House of Parliament, Senator Andre Lewis has also spoken out against mandatory vaccination.
Lewis has stated that “employers cannot mandate existing workers to take the vaccine” because it “will amount to a unilateral change in the terms, and conditions of employment.”
However, Sen. De Allie, who is also the Managing Director of Sissons Paints, which is located inside the Frequente Industrial Park in Grand Anse, St. George, and provides employment for several individuals, told THE NEW TODAY, that while he is not in support of mandatory COVID-19 vaccination at this point in time “the employer has a requirement by law to provide a safe environment, and a duty of care to the employees that they employ.”
According to Sen. DeAllie, “the question of whether or not employers can or cannot mandate COVID-19 vaccination as a condition for employment is a matter for the courts to decide.”
He said: “According to common law precedence, if the employer fails in the duty of care, then the issue becomes one where the employer can be held liable. They can be held liable. So, from an employer point of view, there is a risk.
“Now, some employers have chosen the fact that they need to have a healthy, and safe environment as a result of COVID-19, if you have employees that may be or can be infected, and threaten the health and safety of the environment.
“So, it becomes a health and safety issue for some employers, and as a result, some employers have taken the action that they would like to protect their environment, and they would like all their staff to be vaccinated.
“So, whether or not employers can or cannot mandate that is an issue that the courts would have to decide. Whether or not employees can be fired as a result, our labour laws would have to be examined on that aspect to see whether there is any sort of legality with that or not.”
Sen. De Allie went on: “If we go to the aspect of employability of people, and the employability of employers in general, then it becomes a question of me as an employer looking to hire somebody for their services, (who) would now want to require whether or not they are vaccinated against COVID.
“I can ask that, or I can require that because you know, when one is coming to work now, we send our employees to do a medical (and) the reason we do that is because we need to understand the health of the person whether they are coming in with a pre-condition or not, and if we are willing to take the risk of the pre-condition or not.
“… I suspect that as this situation with the COVID develops down the road that is going to be a pre-condition that people are going to require…that, if I am interested in employing you then I need to establish whether or not you’re appropriately protected against this particular virus.
“For example in my workplace, I would have jobs that require the lifting of bags to mix the paint and operate machinery, and if I have a person that is going into that environment, where there is a certain risk, and a person’s health check comes back, and the doctor feels that this would further increase the risk of the patient, the doctor would say to me Mr. De Allie, we do not recommend that you employ that person in that position, and that would be the end of the conversation.
“The doctor would (only) advise us based on the particular job function that the person is applying for (whether or not) there is a certain health risk then we would know what to do or what not to do.
Sen. De Allie explained how his company would go about dealing with an employee who is certified by a doctor as contracting the coronavirus.
“If any employee by me (at Sissons Paints) is suspected of COVID, a test would be done, and if that test comes back positive, we would ask them to home isolate for 14 days immediately, and then two (2) negative PCR tests after the 14 days (of isolation) is the only way that they would be certified to come back into the workplace (and) I think generally, that is the protocol (that the) government, and the Ministry of Health has asked us to follow.
“Right now, if you get sick with COVID, NIS (the National Insurance Scheme) picks up your sick leave bill. So, if a doctor certifies an employee of contracting COVID, and they have to stay home for the 14 days, we can’t fire them because of that, because a medical certificate has been produced. So, no employer could do that.”
The Private Sector representative cited need for the authorities to engage in more sensitisation among the nation’s population on the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine in order to sway people who are hesitant to take it.
“I would not support us mandating it (COVID vaccination), making it compulsory at this stage, and I am saying at this stage because you don’t know what could happen in the future as the environment changes.
“I mean they may tell us in order to fly on a plane you may need to get vaccinated, but at this stage, I’m not of the view that we have to mandate it, so, as a result I think we need to have a lot more discussion, and education for people who are hesitant to take it.
“I also believe leaders in our community, whether it be at the grassroots level, leaders who understand why they need to be vaccinated, and have taken it must show by example why they took the decision to take it so that some people could get comfort in their mind about it because you know with greatest respect to you and your profession there is a lot of misinformation out there.
“…I think the biggest problem we have as individuals is how we filter what is true verses what is conspiracy, and that is not an easy thing to deal with, and probably the only way to deal with that is if we engage our people who are hesitant, and try and give them your experience if you have been vaccinated, if you have not, why, and discuss and see if you can get them and win them over.
“I think that is the only way for us to go, to constantly keep engaging and giving as much information, and it’s not to say to you that you have to take it, it is saying to you, I am giving you the information from both sides of the coin, you make the decision but, it has to be your decision.
Health Minister Nicholas Steele has announced that the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently on island are scheduled to expire on June 27 which means that persons would not be able to receive both doses, if they did not receive the first dose on or before May 17 which was Monday of this week.