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Employers consider more mandatory Covid-19 testing for staff

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Keith Jensen, the Bermuda Employers’ Council president (File photograph)
Stephen Todd, CEO of the Bermuda Hotel Association (File photograph)

Mandatory coronavirus test schemes for unvaccinated workers could be used more widely as employers try to cut risk in their businesses.

Keith Jensen, the Bermuda Employers’ Council president, said employers had to deal with more than 10,000 quarantined residents.

Mr Jensen added: “Many employers are considering mandatory testing, using the SafeKey and encouraging staff to be vaccinated.

“It should be noted that employers are not just in the private sector, but they also include the Government as an employer and the charities, non-profit and religious sectors.”

He said “most” businesses had dealt with employees out of work and that customer traffic and services were reduced with “many staff applying for the Government benefit”.

He highlighted that the third wave of Covid-19 last spring included a peak of 42 people in hospital and the highest number of patients in critical care at one time was nine.

There were 54 people in hospital with the coronavirus yesterday, with 12 of them in intensive care.

Mr Jensen said employers were required to ensure health and safety at work under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

He added: “There are also general duties of employees as regards any duty imposed on his employer by the Act to co-operate with him to enable that duty to be performed or complied with.”

Staff must also take “reasonable care” to safeguard themselves and others affected by their actions or omissions at work.

Mr Jensen said: “The BEC sees that the Act allows employers to introduce reasonable measures such as mandatory Covid testing, using the SafeKey and reducing opportunities for exposure to curtail the Covid spread.”

He said that employers were “actively considering mandatory Covid testing of staff in order to ensure as reasonable as practicable, a healthy place to work”.

Bermuda Hotel Association members adopted mandatory testing for unvaccinated staff last June.

Stephen Todd, the BHA chief executive officer, said that hoteliers believed the scheme, which now incorporated SafeKey, had been “highly effective”.

He explained that it meant staff knew whether or not they had the bug and also reassured hotel guests and colleagues.

Mr Todd said he knew of cases where industry colleagues opted to get vaccinated without any pressure from employers.

He added the BHA had also had requests from others parts of the hospitality industry for its testing guidelines.

Karl Massam, the restaurant division head at the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, said there was “a rumour" of mandatory coronavirus testing for island workers – but that nothing had been confirmed.

Mr Massam, a partner in the Yellowfin Group, which includes The Astwood Arms and Pearl in Hamilton, said: “We have been thinking about doing it for all our staff as well, but we haven’t made any decision.”

He added that it was thought a testing policy would apply to unvaccinated staff only.

Mr Massam agreed that it was important to detect the virus if an employee became infected.

But he said he thought staff would not be keen on mandatory testing.

He added: “They probably don’t want to stand in line for two hours every three days.”

Mr Massam said that although he had not asked all staff about their vaccination status, he had “a good idea” who was immunised.

Several bars and restaurants shut their doors temporarily this month after staff tested positive for the coronavirus.

The fourth wave of infections – and the quarantines that followed – also hit businesses that did not close.

Mr Massam said: “I don’t even know if it’s worth staying open right now … everybody’s feeling the same.

“It’s tough, it really is. We’ve got empty restaurants and empty bars.”

But he added there was little more the industry could do to boost business.

Mr Massam said: “We’re just sat here a little bit depressed at the situation.”

He added: “The introduction of SafeKey has been detrimental to the business but obviously this fourth wave is even worse.”

Mr Massam said staff came to work but were often sent home because there were so few customers.

He added: “We haven’t laid anybody off yet but they’re on massively reduced hours.”

Lorraine Shailer of the Chamber of Commerce and the general manager of Marks & Spencer in Hamilton, said SafeKey was discussed at a recent meeting of the retail division and that the health and safety of staff and customers was “of the utmost importance”.

She added: “As such, how we achieve the safest environment for our staff and customers, given current conditions was discussed. One of the potential solutions is the use of SafeKey.

But Ms Shailer said that “absolutely no decision has been made” and that there were practical difficulties that would have to be ironed out.

She added: “We will continue to discuss this issue.”

The Italian government last week approved a law to make “green pass” certificates compulsory for workplaces and employees across all sectors, including the self-employed.

It was reported by the BBC that proof of vaccination, a negative test or recovery from infection was needed to qualify.

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Published September 21, 2021 at 8:09 am (Updated September 21, 2021 at 8:09 am)

Employers consider more mandatory Covid-19 testing for staff

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