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Tatil Building, hearquarters of the ANSA McAl Group of Companies.

ANSA McAL set social media abuzz on Friday when it launched its VacciNation initiative.

The regional conglomerate said it decided that it will be freely offering the COVID-19 vaccine to every one of its 6,000 members of staff and their immediate families once the vaccine becomes available.

“The Group expresses the belief that this measure of support and concern for the ANSA McAL family of staff will go a long way towards returning the country to a semblance of normalcy,” ANSA McAl stated.

ANSA McAL said at this time vaccines can only be procured through official government channels but it is the conglomerate’s intention to collaborate and partner with the Health Ministries in the territories it operates.

“Therefore, all of the Group’s efforts under this initiative will be in tandem with these Governments’ established acquisition and distribution plans for the COVID-19 vaccine through the population in each territory,” it stated.

ANSA McAL said should the opportunity present itself in the future to source World Health Organisation approved vaccines on the open market through reputable pharmaceutical companies, the conglomerate will seek to do so.

The group also issued a challenge to other private sector entities to help in this regard.

“If other members of the private sector, in turn, commit to doing the same with its own population of staff the shared burden of responsibility would mean the country and region will get back on its feet so much faster,” it stated.

This move is in alignment with the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign in 2021.

On February 17, Dr Stewart Smith made a presentation for the Health Ministry.

“The purpose of the presentation is to brief the private business sector and its representative of the plans of the Ministry of Health for vaccinating the population of Trinidad and Tobago against COVID-19 and to share and discuss ideas for possible collaboration between the Ministry of Health and the private business sector to achieve this goal,” it stated.

Among the macro intents, it listed was a flattening of the curve and getting the country back to normalcy.

The goal is to vaccinate one million people in the country by the end of 2021.

A way for the private business sector to help with this goal is for them to organise for the COVID-19 vaccine to be administered to staff, the presentation stated.

It was also suggested that the private business sector can also fund vaccines and public vaccination as well as communicate the public message.

In addition to this, the private sector can assist in disseminating COVID vaccine information.

ANSA McAL was lauded for its “Small Dose of Hope” campaign in this regard.

The regional conglomerate said that campaign is a platform intended to inform and educate the general population on the need for taking the COVID-19 vaccine and to counter some of the misleading sources of information in the public domain that create confusion and uncertainty.

The Health Ministry also suggested private entities assisting in other ways like helping provide branded “I got vaccinated” buttons, t-shirts and polos.

Internationally private businesses have been called upon to help the state get a grasp on the pandemic.

Late last month Washington Governor Jay Inslee said that state was partnering with private companies such as Starbucks and Microsoft so that the COVID-19 vaccine can be delivered in an effective, strategic, and timely manner.

This was deemed necessary since there was a shortfall in the target set for administered vaccines across the country.

Inslee said the state’s government-corporate partnership, “…would speed up the process by creating new vaccination sites, mobilising thousands of workers, and making everyone 65 and over immediately eligible. This is designed to bring to bear all of our resources in the state of Washington to get the job done. This is a massive effort.”

This is not the first time members of the business community have stepped up to the plate to help the country address various aspects of the pandemic.

Companies like Carib and Angostura helped by utilising their facilities to make hand sanitiser.

But even with corporate T&T’s proposing avenues to battle the pandemic some concerns are being raised.

During an event held by the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce earlier this week, a question was posed to the panel.

“The Ministry of Health has stated that vaccines are not mandatory, this is an interesting situation I know employees are going to face however if given a particular set of circumstances and an employer is required to have all of its employees vaccinated can an employer say for you to work in this environment you need to be vaccinated because of the way you engage with other employees or the way you engage with customers and if an employee says no will the employer be justified in terminating,” the T&T Chamber stated.

President of the Industrial Court Deborah Thomas-Felix who was a member of the panel answered the question.

“I will answer it in a very general way not specifically. One of the practices of good industrial relations is that you must not unilaterally alter terms and conditions of employment. If somebody is working in an organisation and they have been working under X terms you cannot now say ‘well take an injection or I put you out’,” she said.

Thomas-Felix said such a move will be considered unilaterally altering terms and conditions of the employment.

She said however if someone was now entering the organisation there could be a discussion around such a term being imposed.

“Now the question of imposition of public health policies in workplace is something that in my view the government needs to look at because while there are public health policies that we have an OSH Act there are also rights of citizens generally across the board, forget workers, and these right cannot be trumped by policy the rights can only be addressed by law,” she said.

“And therefore in my view before you can start saying everybody must be inoculated or not be inoculated there must be some sort of law at the very least policy on that and it cannot be that an entire population be directed that’s why the ministry of health is saying ‘may’ because it cannot be that a whole population is forced to take an injection whether is for the greater good or not for the greater good,” Thomas-Felix said.

“There must be those who are exempted who have particular concerns that they may not want to take it because you’re dealing now with human rights law which is a totally different kettle of fish. So I understand the reason why the ministry will not make it compulsory and therefore employers need to look at that before they decide to make that compulsory,” she said. (See more on Page 7)