Although a COVID-19 vaccination policy in the workplace is a contentious issue, both Government, business and labour organisations agree that it is the way forward.
Minister of Planning and Development Camille Robinson-Regis met with stakeholders yesterday to discuss a possible workplace policy for COVID-19 vaccinations and the minister described the discussion as productive and meaningful.
In a joint media release afterwards, Robinson-Regis said the parties agreed on six focal points, which included that enhanced public education is required to combat false narratives and vaccine hesitancy and a continuation and strengthening of the consultative and participatory process on the part of the Government with stakeholders. Stakeholders also agreed that policy must come from the Government to move the vaccination process forward. There will be a consideration for a COVID-19 response team to provide support and there will be incentives to encourage people to take the vaccines, Robinson-Regis noted.
The Occupation Health and Safety Agency meanwhile said it will support the private sector by providing review and guidance of industry risk assessments, especially concerning crafting policy regarding COVID-19.
Regarding the incoming TT Safe Zones, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram said the challenge was that 34 per cent of the population was undecided regarding vaccination. Parasram said the strategy previously used was to focus on managing COVID-19 numbers by limiting activity and taking other actions. However, he said the ministry has gone past this.
Also commenting, Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh said the goal now is to save lives and livelihoods, hence the plans for safe zones. Deyalsingh said the timeframe for the safe zones depends on the epidemiological response of the virus to the current strategy. However, October 11 was given as the start of the safe zone initiative.
In her statement yesterday, Robinson-Regis said any discussion towards establishing a workplace policy would be progressive for all parties. She said the Government had administered over one million vaccine doses to date and a fully vaccinated population presents benefits to all.
“At the macro scale, the socio-economic benefits of having a fully vaccinated workforce involve better physical, as well as mental health and well-being, increased earning capacity and greater opportunities for vaccinated service providers to operate freely within the economy,” Robinson-Regis said.
She said an increased vaccinated workforce also facilitates employees’ aim of providing for their families and employers’ objective to have a reliable and healthy workforce and population.
According to the Central Bank, the path of COVID-19 and the domestic response will directly impact the short term economic outlook. Robinson-Regis said it was possible that gradually easing restrictions on movement and business could see a meaningful recovery of non-energy output.
National Trade Union Centre general secretary Michael Annisette said a meeting among a cross-section of stakeholders was something his organisation had advocated for some time. He said the discussion was frank and all participants put their collective thought together and pledged to meet again to reach a consensus. He said the Government made it clear it does not plan to implement a mandatory vaccine policy but is working toward more persuasion and education of the population.
T&T Chamber of Industry of Commerce CEO Gabriel Faria thanked the Government for the meeting. Faria said he was happy to see everyone who attended the meeting recognise the country’s needs and current state, with the COVID-19 Delta variant now in a stage of community spread.
Employers’ Consultative Association CEO Stefanie Fingal felt all parties made progress and everyone was interested and ready to do their part.
“There is consensus that we have to work together and try to come to some policy position. Everybody understands the need for vaccination, seeing what is happening in society. Everybody sees the importance of getting the vaccines because we understand that vaccines would help with returning some healthy activities to the economy, and there are health benefits as well,” Fingal said.
Participants in the meeting also included the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs, Joint Trade Union Movement, T&T Coalition of Service Industries, T&T Group of Professional Associations, American Chamber of Commerce of T&T, T&T Manufacturers Association, Bankers Association of T&T and Energy Chamber. Labour Minister Stephen Mc Clashie also attended.