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T&T Contractors Association president Glenn Mahabirsingh.

As numerous construction projects languish during COVID-19 lockdown, the Contractors Association (TTCA) has earmarked Saturday to start vaccination of workers in the sector.

It comes as the government moves to reopen various sectors of the economy, which have been suffering as COVID-19 rates spiked over the past months.

TTCA president Glenn Mahabirsingh said the Ministry of Health allocated 5,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to the construction sector. In turn, they extended 1500 to hardware dealers. Mahabirsingh said the response was phenomenal, especially from State agencies ahead of the submission deadline on Wednesday. TTCA has tentatively set this Saturday for workers in North and Central Trinidad and June 20 for the rest of the country.

“TTCA is pleased to facilitate the vaccination initiative for the construction sector and to extend the coverage to hardware businesses. Vaccinations remain an essential line of defence against viruses. This vaccination drive is a definite opportunity to protect our members and workers by reducing the risks associated with the COVID-19 virus,” Mahabirsingh said.

The Bankers Association (BATT) said its request to have customer-facing employees within the sector vaccinated as a first phase priority is under consideration by the Ministry of Health.

BATT said it is working assiduously to finalize the details to ensure, with the ministry’s approval, that it can vaccinate as many banking staff who are in direct contact with the public as is possible at this stage.

“We do want to record our appreciation of the willingness of the Ministry of Health to consider our request,” BATT stated.

President of the Couva/Point Lisas Chamber of Commerce (CPLCC) Premchand Rajbal Maraj said his body is encouraging various business groups to get their workers vaccinated.

Maraj said the CPLCC also made arrangements for some workers to get vaccinated at health centres.

“We do not have that urgent request in great demand from members. We only just received from 10 members that are not registered with the Supermarket Association,” Maharaj said

The Greater San Fernando Area Chamber of Commerce (GSACC) said it would allow members to use other business groups to source vaccinations. GSFACC president Kiran Singh said not all members have essential businesses. Singh said they prefer to wait until frontline workers receive their doses before lobbying for members who operate retail outlets.

He said there was some comfort following Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s announcement on Saturday, that there was a significant supply of vaccines coming to the country.

“We expect that in a couple of months, the appointment process will cease to exist, and you can walk into a pharmacy or clinic and access a vaccine of your choice. Based on the announcement that we would get several variations of the COVID-19 vaccine because some individuals are predisposed to vaccines when we have choices, it will encourage us to take the vaccine,” Singh said.

Reval Chattergoon, president of the Arima Business Association, said he asked the various business sector bodies to set up the vaccination for workers.

“As an association, we represent different types of businesses. Some may not get the classification that is required. Like a bar or casino, might be in the last group while supermarkets and gas station might be essential because they operate with people every day,” Chattergoon said.

While the business associations are lobbying workers to get vaccinated, there are reports that companies are threatening to take action against workers who do not take the vaccines.

General Secretary of the Joint Trade Union Movement Ozzi Warwick said some trade union staff already took the vaccines. Regarding members, Warwick said the individual companies would oversee the vaccinations. However, he said trade unions would intervene in cases where employers force vaccination on workers.

“Unions are completely against this mandatory or forcing of workers to take vaccines or victimizing workers who chose not to,” Warwick said.

As Chief Education and Research Officer of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union, Warwick said his executive team supports vaccinations. Warwick said he took the AstraZeneca vaccine and is awaiting his second dose

The Employers’ Consultative Association (ECA) will host a Zoom webinar this Friday on Mandatory Covid-19 Testing and Vaccination: The Rights, Responsibilities and Liabilities of Employers. CEO Stephanie Fingal said the ECA’s role in vaccination is educational and raising awareness. Fingal said Friday’s session would also delve into the industrial relations implications of mandatory testing and vaccinations. Presenters include Port-of-Spain South MP, attorney Keith Scotland and Dr Ian Ramnarine, Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon and Associate Lecturer at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus.