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The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) outlined in a statement on Tuesday that the rights of workers and citizens are being trampled under the Government’s new restrictions to work and services for those who are not COVID-19 vaccinated.
Recently, the Government implemented new mandatory COVID-19 vaccination requirements for transportation operators and conductors, casinos, betting shops and cinema users, and all who wish to attend a Government Ministry or Agency. There has been a mixed response from the Guyanese public with discussions surrounding human rights and the rights of taxpayers to access Government services without hindrance.
The Union brought to the fore one case of the impact on citizens. It stated that, following the restrictions, unvaccinated workers at the Government Maritime Administration Department (MARAD), were sent home as workers there must now be vaccinated or present negative PCR tests to work.
The Union stated that the COVID-19 pandemic, which should be bringing the country’s leaders and its peoples together towards finding solutions, is rather being used to cause fear, increase the burden of the average Guyanese and further create political division.
“This is political madness. It is government and employer tyranny. It is the violation of laws and transgressing of workers/citizens’ rights…no where is this vaccine mandatory by law. Instead of government taking an approach to allay fear with regards to vaccination hesitancy and availability based on that approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO), they are moving with brute force and ignorance to mask their incompetence in handling the virus. The question also becomes, who’s next?” the Union stated.
The GTUC made it clear that while it does not oppose any individual taking the vaccine it opposes a process that refuses to acknowledge and allay citizens’ legitimate fears about the vaccines, especially for persons with pre-existing health conditions.
EMPLOYER’S RESPONSIBILITY FOR TESTS
In addition, through highlighting the Occupational Safety and Health Act, Chap 99:10, Sect 47 (3), the GTUC reminded that it section tasks employers with additional duties to pay the “worker’s cost for medical examination or test required by the medical surveillance programme or required by regulations”.
The Union explained: “If workers are being asked to produce a negative test before returning to work, then the employer must bear the expense for the test because it falls into the category of Occupational Safety and health for the workers in that environment and his/her co-workers. No person should be paying to do a COVID-19 test, whether they access the test from the state or private institutions.”
Employers, it said, who require mandatory testing of their workers should also create such a process by having workers complete a pre-screening form about their COVID status, encountering an infected person, showing signs and symptoms associated with the virus, have their temperature taken, and facilitate testing. If testing cannot be provided on-site, the Union said that the employer must cover the cost if provided elsewhere.
Furthermore, the Union outlined that it is the duty of the State to ensure the health and safety of its citizens which does not include brute force and ignorance. The Union said that decisions must be guided by science, laws and available resources.
GTUC stated that it is also opposed to the absence of transparency in handling the pandemic, management of the crisis without collaboration, the use of any vaccine unapproved by PAHO/WHO and the the “high-handed approach” of the President, ministers and other government officials disregarding COVID-19 guidelines.
To create an environment where persons feel safe and are properly educated about the matter of vaccination, the Union recommended that the Government come clean on several issues. One of which is the number of vaccines available based on the population eligible to receive the same.
The Union explained: “The Government must provide to this nation evidence that it has within supply the required amount for the population size. Guyana [not] is the United States, Great Britain, Canada and other developed countries that have or could produce within real-time vaccines for their citizens. They must answer this question.”
Furthermore, the Union recommended that the Government state how many vaccines (first and second dose) approved by WHO are in its possession; when will the second dose of the unapproved Sputnik V vaccine be procured and to what extent the timeframe affects efficacy.
Also pointing to the Government’s decision to prohibit the unvaccinated from entering Government agencies, the Union said that this is another act which only stands to cause division.
“Government must stop antagonising and dividing the nation in handling the virus. They must seek to manage the pandemic consistent with science, laws and appropriate resources. The rank and file must not become the social and economic victims of government’s failures and employers’ arrogance. Rights and laws must not be transgressed to mask what is evidently poor handling of the pandemic. Mismanagement of this health crisis must end, and it must start now with the Ali regime,” the Union said.