Don Devenish

‘VIOLATION OF THE LAW’: Banking, Insurance and General Workers’ Union (BIGWU) first vice-president Don Devenish, left, and BIGWU executive Jason Brown discuss Republic Bank’s stance on mandatory PCR tests for non-vaccinated employees yesterday at BIGWU headquarters on Eighth Street, Barataria.

—Photo: JERMAINE CRUICKSHANK

THE Banking, Insurance and General Workers’ Union (BIGWU) filed a petition against Republic Bank Ltd in the Industrial Court yesterday, calling for the bank to end its return-to-work policy.

BIGWU executive Jason Brown said yesterday the bank is refusing to meet and treat with the union on the workers’ issues including the demands they bear costs of the PCR tests, which could amount to about $3,000 a month.

Addressing a news conference at BIGWU’s headquarters in Barataria, Brown said the bank continues to “hide behind its ivory tower”.

At the press conference, Brown and BIGWU’s first vice-president Don Devenish said the bank’s policy from September 6, that it will be implementing mandatory PCR tests for the unvaccinated staff to mitigate the spread of the Covid-19 virus was a violation of Section 12 and Section 37: 1 and 2 of the OSH act.

In a policy guideline sent to all staff on Wednesday afternoon, Republic Bank said all unvaccinated staff would be required to produce a negative PCR test result on a fortnightly basis. BIGWU represents about 2,600 bank workers, and, about 600 have not yet been vaccinated during the pandemic.

As an incentive for being vaccinated, the bank will make an ex-gratia payment of $750 to all staff who have registered as being vaccinated as at August 31, 2021 (the August registrants). Republic will also make an ex-gratia payment of $250 to all staff who have registered as vaccinated between September 1 and November 30, 2021, and at the time of that payment the August registrants will receive a second ex-gratia payment of $250 in further recognition of their diligence in promptly being vaccinated.

In a phone interview yesterday, Brown said: “There’s a curiosity about what is happening in terms of the bank among the country. The bank is not coming out and telling the public what is really happening. BIGWU has been calling them for a public debate so they could clear the air. The bank is hiding behind its ivory tower. They are hiding behind their policies and not coming out. We are curious about what gives them the right to break the law.”

Devenish added: “There are other employers who are putting similar demands on workers, that they must provide PCR tests at their expense. A PCR test costs about $1,500 and, they are asking for it to be done twice per month. It’s about $3,000. That’s a lot of money during a pandemic.”

Republic responds

Yesterday, Republic Bank in a statement to the media said it remains committed to ensuring a safe and balanced approach in the implementation of its return-to-work policy.

“The bank has and continues to take the necessary measures to ensure the safety and well-being of all staff who returned to work last Monday, September 6, 2021. As a responsible employer and corporate citizen, our primary concern remains the safety and well-being of all our employees, customers and the economic recovery of our country,” the statement said.

RBL has reached a threshold of 2,700 fully vaccinated staff members.

Landmark event

In a phone interview yesterday, Labour Minister Stephen McClashie said: “It would have turned up sooner or later. And given that it’s now before the courts, it would be prejudicial to say whether I think it’s a good move, or a bad move. If I say anything, it would go down as the State’s position. What we have said and the message PM Dr Keith Rowley has been putting out there is to vaccinate so we can open up the economy.”

He added: “The issue is some people are looking at the OSH regulations, as part of the reason is the employer requires people to be tested. The employer is saying I have something that should be available to you. It is going to be landmark event, as to whether or not.”

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