Private sector awaiting Government's directive on vaccination mandate for workersThursday, November 18, 2021
BY ALPHEA SUMNER
SECTOR leaders are now calling on the Government to give firm and clear guidance to companies on how to proceed with COVID-19 vaccination policies for the workplace.
Yesterday, at a meeting of the economy and production committee of Parliament, head of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA) John Mahfood said given the current pace of vaccination, it could be 2023 before the Government meets the target of 65 per cent vaccination coverage.
“In our survey to our members when we asked about vaccination rates and whether they mandate it or not, a big number of the respondents said they are waiting on the Government for guidance to know what to do; I am afraid to say to you that the Government, although they know better, they have essentially given up on the idea of achieving 65 per cent vaccination rate by March (2022),” Mahfood said.
According to recent research conducted by the JMEA to ascertain the extent to which the manufacturing sector has been impacted, approximately 80.4 per cent of companies surveyed do not have a vaccine mandate.
The majority – 24.44 per cent — indicated that they prefer to encourage and support rather than implement a mandate. Another 13.33 per cent mentioned that they are awaiting directives from the Government of Jamaica and another 13.33 per cent are currently considering the mandate. However, 11.11 per cent want to give employees the right to choose and 11.11 per cent see no need to implement a mandate.
Another 8.89 per cent indicated that coercive methods are already in place.
“Unfortunately, what the Government has telegraphed is that they are not going to mandate vaccination and they are also not going to go back to lockdown situations, and what I fear is going to happen this Christmas, as happened last Christmas and this summer…if we let things slide to give people a break and we have another outbreak, the Government has said you are the ones that are going to pay the price and we are not going to overload the hospitals,” the JMEA president said.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in a statement to the House of Representatives, said there was no returning to a lockdown regime, while at the same time telling Jamaicans that a fourth wave of COVID-19 is to be expected. He also said there will come a point when there will be only a fixed number of beds for COVID-19 patients in hospitals.
Mahfood said he was concerned that the Government has not taken a strong enough position, pointing out that if the country has to endure another year-and-a-half of reduced economic activity, or an explosion in COVID-19 cases, either would be a “disastrous” situation for the country.president of the Jamaica Employers.
Federation (JEF) David Wan also pointed to a lack of guidance from the Government on vaccination policies by companies. He said in the absence of that guidance, there are fears that if the court decides in favour of the employees who have brought lawsuits against employers, this will set a precedence, and it will be even harder to get persons to vaccinate.
At the same time, he said in consultation with the JMEA and the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions, legal guidance on how companies should handle implementation of a vaccination policy has been circulated to the membership of the sector. “It suggested a legal way to have in effect a vaccine mandate without calling it a mandate, taking it through a process and ensuring that you give people a chance to voice their objections,” he advised, but noted that there is no guarantee that companies will fully adopt this approach.
Meanwhile, Mahfood said a JMEA survey has found that smaller manufacturing and export companies have very low vaccination rates, while companies with 20 employees or more, had about 40 per cent of employees vaccinated.
He told the committee that costs to companies in lost production hours, vaccination initiatives, additional cleaning, testing, transportation and other COVID-19-related expenses, had been quantified at over $5 billion.
“That is not a small figure…and that doesn't include companies that have closed down, and that's many companies,” he stated.