Jordan: No intimidation of workers to take COVID vaccine

St Peter Member of Parliament Colin Jordan giving details of the state funeral for former Prime Minister Professor Owen Arthur, yesterday at Government Headquarters. (Picture by Jameel Springer.)

The Barbados Minister of Labour Colin Jordan is warning employers of practices which may be seen as “bullying” in their fight against COVID-19.

He issued a statement against the backdrop of some employers mandating that workers be vaccinated against the illness. Jordan called for dialogue, and reminded workers they were afforded protection under the Employment (Prevention of Discrimination) Act and the Constitution of Barbados.

More companies are introducing vaccination policies that require workers to be inoculated – and they must show proof – or they will be required, at their expense, to provide negative PCR tests. At least one company told workers they would not be allowed on property without a vaccination certificate.

“This is Barbados, not the wild west. We will only be successful in fighting the pandemic and building a strong and sustainable country if we do it together and in an orderly way that respects all people,” the Minister said.

The full statement follows:

Workers in Barbados are protected by the Employment (Prevention of Discrimination) Act which, among other things, prohibits discrimination on the grounds of a person’s medical condition. Additionally, employers are prohibited from requiring a person to be tested for a medical condition either as a precondition for entering into a contract of employment or as a condition for continuing employment. This prohibition is subject to if the test or knowledge of a medical condition is required by reason of a genuine occupational qualification.

A genuine occupational qualification is when a requirement is inherent or absolutely necessary for a particular position or function. There could also be a legal requirement – as in the case of persons working with food preparation and serving who are required to have a medical certificate (known as a food handling certificate). Another example would be if a person is being hired for a position that requires travel to a country which mandates having a Yellow Fever vaccine for entry into the country. The worker will need to have the vaccine if he or she is going to be employed in that role.

Discrimination includes the imposition of penalties and the reduction of benefits and any other treatment that disadvantages a worker. Barring a worker from working, and therefore earning, is placing that worker at a disadvantage.

Workers in Barbados are also protected by the Constitution on the basis of their religious beliefs.

While we are strongly urging and encouraging persons to be vaccinated so Barbados can be successful in the fight against this deadly corona virus, there is currently no legislation that requires a worker to be vaccinated.

If it is determined that a test or other requirement (like vaccination) is absolutely necessary, the employer may be required to make reasonable accommodation for an existing worker who does not meet the requirement. This will obviously depend on many factors including size of business, nature of operations, and available options for reassignment or relocation.

Social dialogue has been a hallmark of both our governance and our industrial relations. We call on employers to have dialogue with their workers and workers’ representatives when changes in the employment relationship are being contemplated. Workers are human beings. Talk with your people.

We also remind employers that, at the level of the Social Partnership, Government has asked that employers and workers organisations work with us in the fight against the pandemic and not take extreme measures that appear to be bullying and intimidation. This is Barbados, not the wild west. We will only be successful in fighting the pandemic and building a strong and sustainable country if we do it together and in an orderly way that respects all people.

Persons who are unsure of their rights or responsibilities should contact the Labour Department and speak with a Labour Officer. (PR/SAT)

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