Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton, has pledged to support efforts by local trade unions to facilitate the vaccination of employees in the workplace against the coronavirus (COVID-19).
He was speaking during a press conference at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston on Friday (September 10), during which the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) endorsed the Government’s COVID-19 Vaccination Implementation Programme.
The occasion was also used to announce plans to vaccinate workers in business establishments, for which discussions are underway between the Ministry and the JCTU and its affiliates.
Dr. Tufton said the fall in economic activity since the pandemic’s onset locally in March 2020, coupled with over 100,000 jobs lost, and the rising number of confirmed cases and deaths to over 75,000 and 1,800 respectively, “clearly, has implications, not just for employers, but for employees”.
“From a public health standpoint, many persons [are] grappling with mental health issues from restrictions… being [unable]… to move about to seek their best endeavours and interests, in their own way,” he further noted.
Consequently, Dr. Tufton said he would support a trade union vaccination blitz that complements a similar initiative by the private sector.
“We have mobile buses that can go to the locations. We can allow some of our health education officers [to go in, and] we can provide pamphlets and brochures,” he added.
Dr. Tufton noted that in previous meetings with union leaders, it was acknowledged that COVID-19 is “a very clear and present danger to Jamaicans and, certainly, the working-class movement who they provide leadership for.”
“We had a discussion around the approach to [the] response… and there’s absolutely no doubt that there is full agreement by all that we have to move as one country, no matter which interest we represent,” he added.
Director of Family Services in the Ministry, Dr. Melody Ennis, for her part, said that the technical arm “stands ready” to assist with public education/sensitisation within organisations, once the arrangements are finalised.
She indicated that apart from sensitisation, the Ministry’s technical arm has a rapid response team that can commence the immunisation process.
She assured that the Ministry is ready and willing to provide support, no matter the number of employees in organisations, adding “we are not constrained by that”.
“If you have 50 [or] 60, whatever the number of workers you have, once the space is there, we will do the talks and we will inoculate. So, it is really for us to solidify this partnership, get the schedules, and engage our rapid response team to come in,” Dr. Ennis added.
JCTU President, Helene Davis Whyte, said vaccines are recognised as being “essential to us being able to return to some kind of normality, where we are able to meet each other and to socialise and be back in our workspaces in a comfortable kind of way.”
Other JCTU officers attending the press conference were: Vice President and Union of Technical, Administrative and Supervisory Personnel (UTASP) General Secretary, St. Patrice Ennis; Assistant General Secretary, and University and Allied Workers Union (UWU) Vice President, Clifton Grant; and Executive Member, and Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) President-General, Kavan Gayle, who all delivered brief remarks.
Also joining virtually was Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA) Third Vice President, Clarence Frater.