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MSJ political leader David Abdulah.

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Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s response to vaccination policies in the private sector may be creating a safe place for employers to force vaccines on employees, political leader of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ), David Abdulah said yesterday.

He maintained that Rowley’s comment that employers must do what is necessary to protect their workers and customer was out of context.

“Well, I do not know that the Prime Minister is an expert in law, and particularly, he is not an expert in industrial relations law,” Abdulah said during a virtual media conference yesterday.

Following the Government’s announcement of its Vaccinate of Operate policy as it eased lockdown restrictions, several companies advised employees that those who refuse vaccination would be left off rosters. Trent Restaurant Ltd, Starlite Pharmacy and Nigel R Khan also told employees that if they do not vaccinate, they would be required to submit to Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests bi-monthly to determine their COVID-19 status. The employees must cover this cost.

Abdulah said that with a PCR test ranging from $1,000-$1,500, this could probably drain half of these employees salaries.

The retired general secretary of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union said Rowley was correct when he said employers must ensure safe spaces.

However, he noted that vaccination applies to a person’s health status, and Abdulah says he said this requires some legal backing which does not exist.

He said it was significant that mandatory vaccinations were not a policy in companies where workers are part of trade unions. In companies with trade unions, he hopes employers discussed the policies to encourage vaccinations because it was wise, safe and the healthy thing to do.

“The fact that unionised workplaces have not done that is precisely because employers cannot unilaterally set conditions for employees that would violate existing conditions of employment. If you have a collective agreement, you cannot now impose a new condition unless it is negotiated and agreed to by the union or it is part of a judgement of the Industrial Court.”

Abdulah said companies could apply a mandatory vaccination requirement for incoming employees.

“So I think the Prime Minister is wrong on that, and he waffled what the government ought to have done, which was to have a proper tripartite process to discuss what the policies on workplace health and safety ought to be in that context of the pandemic. That ought to have happened last year. Had that happened, then we would not be in this situation now.”

He said workers in a non-unionised environment could join a trade union as individuals. The trade union can take up a trade dispute with the employer. The employer might refuse to meet, but the trade union can take the matter to the Ministry of Labour for conciliation, and the employer would be obligated to come. If the issue remains unresolved, the Ministry will refer it to the Industrial Court as an unresolved dispute.

The MSJ also called on the Ministry of Education to digitise some textbooks. Abdulah said this would assist hundreds of thousands of parents struggling to purchase books for their children ahead of the new school year.