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HRC sees increase in Covid-19 related complaints

Human Rights Commission logo (Image from Bermuda Government website)

The coronavirus pandemic sparked an increase in calls from workers concerned about their rights – including mandatory Covid testing, a new report shows.

According to the Human Rights Commission’s 2020 Annual Report, tabled in the House of Assembly on Friday, 20 complaints related to Covid-19 had been filed with 13 related to employment.

“Complainants alleged unfair practices by employers such as the initiation of mandatory Covid-19 testing, disputes over whether employees were entitled to wages during the lockdown period and any necessary quarantine periods, and unfair terminations which, in some cases, were presented as necessary redundancies or layoffs,” the report said.

Others complained to the HRC that they were not allowed into King Edward VII Memorial Hospital to witness the birth of their child because of Covid-19 restrictions and being unable to attend a partner’s ultrasound appointments.

The HRC also received one complaint related to a tenant who was asked to leave a rental property during the pandemic.

The report did not detail the results of the majority of the Covid-19 complaints, but at least two were referred to Workforce Development to receive legal advice about the Employment Act 2000.

In one case, the complainant had asked if they were entitled to sick leave for time spent in quarantine due to a Covid-19 case at their place of work.

Another person was referred after they said they were laid off on the basis of the pandemic.

Lisa Reed, Executive officer of the Human Rights Commission, said that almost 15 per cent of queries and complaints received in 2020 were directly related to the pandemic.

She said that the total number of complaints and queries rose by 9 per cent year-on-year – from 128 to 140 – and it was expected that Covid-19 related issues would continue as the economic and social issues remain.

Ms Reed said: “While everyone has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the extent and severity differed dramatically.

“Marginalised and vulnerable groups around the world experienced disproportionate effects from the virus and associated public health measures.

“The impact of Covid-19 highlighted the structural inequities in our society, bringing systemic concerns to the forefront of public discourse.”

The report said the lock down was an “extraordinary exercise of the Governor’s power”, but the HRC found it was appropriate in the circumstances.

“The HRC had concern that the homeless, abuse victims and people with mental health challenges were among those most at risk from changes to the law to limit freedom of movement and combat Covid-19,” the report said.

“The Commission was available to provide guidance and work with the Government, industry associations, businesses and individuals in accordance with our statutory mandate.

“The exercise of powers by Government officials under the emergency coronavirus legislation needed to be in alignment with human rights principles and the Commission undertook an independent review of the legislation from that perspective.”

The report also highlighted that other disadvantaged groups suffered more significantly from the pandemic, including those who work low-paying jobs that were impacted by Covid-19 restrictions.

“As a society, we must ensure that they are not forgotten or ignored,” the report said.

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Published July 19, 2021 at 4:43 pm (Updated July 19, 2021 at 4:43 pm)

HRC sees increase in Covid-19 related complaints

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