Public sector workers who choose to not take a COVID-19 vaccine and are required to test regularly to prove their status will now have to pay for the test.
“You have to pay for it because what happens is this, some employers — and they must speak the truth about it — … are saying you either get vaccinated or come with a COVID test every Monday morning,” Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said on NBC Radio on Wednesday.
“Well, why should the state — you don’t want to take the vaccine — why should we pay for your test every Monday morning? Why don’t you just take the vaccine?” Gonsalves said.
The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has said that unvaccinated public sector workers who have not been vaccinated must take a COVID-19 test up to once every two weeks.
The first test is provided free of cost, and after this, the workers must stand the cost of the test, about EC$26.
“You get the first one free. I think they even give you the second one free. But you decide you are not taking the vaccine, for whatever reason and I take the vaccine, I’m a taxpayer; I have to pay for it (your test). It cost nearly US$10 to do the antigen test, for each one.”
The prime minister said that he knows of a hotel construction site with 170 employees that closed for a week after two workers tested positive for COVID-19.
“… and they didn’t know whether there was going to be an outbreak and they said, ‘Listen, you come vaccinated, you don’t have to go and do the test. But if you decide not to take the vaccine, you have to do the test.’ And the employers said you have to do the test at your expense.”
The prime minister said that 20% of the people in the country have taken the vaccine.
“They are taxpayers. Why they must pay every single week for your test when you choose not to take the vaccine? I raise the question of fairness in that regard.”
He said that there are about 50,000 workers in the country.
Gonsalves said that presuming that 10,000 of them have been vaccinated, the other 40,000 will have to be tested regularly.
“So every Monday morning, we have to pay for 40,000 or close to that; that’s US$400,000 every Monday morning. That is a million [Eastern Caribbean] dollars…
“Now, that can’t be fair. And people want money so that they can keep body and soul together. You can have your choice not to take the vaccine but if the employer says you have to take the vaccine or you have to take the test otherwise you can’t work at my place because I have an obligation as an employer for a safe and healthy work environment. That’s under the law. And we are currently dealing with the procedures and so forth for certain categories of state employees, both in the government service and also in statutory bodies.”
He said that for example, people who work on the cruise ship pier, airport employees, medical personnel, and Customs workers should be vaccinated.
“So if you don’t want to take the vaccine but you are going to take the test, you can’t ask the employer to give you a test every Monday morning or every two weeks to pay approximately US$10 for each of these antigen tests.
“They cost money. We don’t get them for nothing. Remember I tried to talk the home truths to the population and some people are not listening. I’m begging you please, take the vaccine.”