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Government to axe staff at lab in front line of the Covid-19 battle

Staff at the Molecular Diagnostic Lab in Warwick. (File photograph)

The Government was last night blasted after it sacked staff at the Covid-19 test lab at the forefront of the island’s battle against the coronavirus.

Staff at the lab accused civil servants of an attempt to dismantle the lab and “destroy the legacy” of Carika Weldon, who quit as head at the end of January.

A statement sent to the media claimed that 80 per cent of staff at MDL would be dismissed.

It added: “A lot of these staff have many different responsibilities they have to deal with outside of work and will now be out-of-work young adults.

“To the entire staff at MDL, this was a slap in the face to all of the workers who spent tireless days and nights for the country they love.

“Not a word of gratitude from top civil servants or MPs and/or ministers. It seems the staff was only good when it made them look good.”

The statement claimed that staff had signed contracts last December to run to the end of June — but that they had been changed to end on March 31 instead.

Affected staff were later told that their last working day would be March 18, although they would be paid until the end of April.

Staff members also said that Dr Weldon had attempted to withdraw her resignation, but was told it had already been acted on.

But a spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office said the cost of the Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory in Warwick was “not sustainable” as the pandemic appeared to wane.

She insisted that the termination of the short-term contracts of some MDL staff was required as the need for tests had dropped — but refused to say how many staff would be let go.

She added: “Vaccination and booster levels, public compliance with basic preventive measures mean that we simply do not need the levels of testing staff required at the peak of the pandemic and the outbreaks experienced since 2020.”

The spokeswoman said that staffing approached a high of 60 people, which was “neither sustainable nor reflective of where we are as an island in this phase of the pandemic”.

She added that $4.5 million had been paid in salaries to MDL staff since 2020 and that the Department of Workforce Development and the Ministry of Health would help people left jobless to find other employment.

The spokeswoman said: “The skills gained by these individuals through their work with MDL ideally position them for private sector opportunities where testing is required.

“All efforts will be made to marry them with these employment opportunities where the need for their skills have been identified.

“These matters have been the subject of consultation with the BPSU who termed the transition arrangements fair in representing the staff.”

The spokeswoman admitted that Dr Weldon had tried to withdraw her resignation, but that “immediate action” was needed to replace her once she had resigned.

She said: “Dr Weldon resigned on December 31, giving 30 days’ notice as required by her contract.

“Three days later, at 11.47am on January 3, Dr Weldon was advised that the administrative team would be instructed to ensure that this process is appropriately handled.

“Later that same day at 7.40pm, Dr Weldon purported to rescind her resignation and was advised in a reply the following day that her resignation had been actioned as previously indicated.

“With this unexpected resignation, immediate action was required to ensure the lab would be covered and an accelerated transition plan actioned.”

The spokeswoman added: “Maintaining a staff in 2022 that reflects where we were in 2020 and 2021 is not fiscally sustainable.

“Decisions like this are never easy and is in no way minimising the work done by the whole team and every effort will be made to ensure that alternate employment is secured.”

The spokeswoman said: “The staff contracts were approved for extension until March 31 to coincide with the end of the financial year.

She added: “The offer of a contract extension through June 30 was made without authority and did not accord with the instructions given to the Accountant-General for the extension.”

The Bermuda Public Services Union was asked for comment on the controversy, but has not yet responded.

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Published March 15, 2022 at 9:57 am (Updated March 15, 2022 at 10:13 am)

Government to axe staff at lab in front line of the Covid-19 battle

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