By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Chief journalist of the tribune
ATLANTIS has maintained its position that unvaccinated employees are financially responsible for their weekly rapid antigen tests despite a recent announcement by a government minister that the station had agreed to suspend the policy.
A spokesperson for the mega resort told The Tribune yesterday that the policy came into effect on October 1.
“Atlantis has not changed its position regarding unvaccinated team members,” noted a brief statement from the Paradise Island resort. “As of October 1, all unvaccinated team members are now financially responsible for their rapid antigen testing.”
Labor and Immigration Minister Keith Bell told reporters less than a week ago that Atlantis had agreed to “delay” the implementation of its COVID-19 vaccination policy for the unvaccinated staff after several discussions between labor officials and station executives about the new rule.
However, this is not the case.
The hotel’s refusal to withdraw was harshly criticized yesterday by Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union President Darrin Woods, who called the policy ‘modern day slavery’.
When contacted, Mr Woods said demanding workers pay $16.50 a week for rapid antigen tests was not just a financial burden, but a tool to coerce people into getting vaccinated .
“We actually handed this over to the Department of Labor from Monday for the government to do what is necessary to enforce the law,” Mr Woods said yesterday.
“The Minister said he had spoken to them and they were supposed to back down, but now apparently they have.”
He also said: “We still believe that workers should not pay. We are looking for them to enforce the law.
“They’re not supposed to do that. You ask people to pay. . .$17. These people get paid bi-weekly and on top of that they only work reduced days, so how are they supposed to do it?
“So what they are doing is forcing them to go and get vaccinated.
“That’s how slavery happens. You make people do what you want them to do by doing certain things to them. Financially, it’s a way to enslave people. Their work is another way. This is modern day slavery. It is what it is.
In a letter sent to staff last Wednesday, Audrey Oswell, President and CEO of Atlantis, announced that all unvaccinated staff will be “financially responsible” for paying for their weekly $16.50 rapid antigen test beginning on the 1st October.
The policy was announced earlier this year and is initially expected to come into effect in September.
According to Ms Oswell, the order was part of the resort’s approach to “putting the health and economy of the community first”.
“As we have shared since July, Atlantis will not pay for the cost of testing indefinitely. Nor will we continue to encourage testing as an alternative to vaccination,” Ms Oswell said.
“…By getting the free and widely available vaccine, you are protecting yourself and your family, colleagues, our guests and the community from COVID-19. You are also playing a vital role in helping to achieve a COVID-free Bahamas, which is the only way forward for our economy and tourism to thrive again,” she said.
In response, Mr Bell said last week that government officials were seeking advice from the attorney general’s office on the matter, but he told reporters that Atlantis had agreed to delay the policy.
“I have contacted the Director of Labor, Mr Robert Farquharson, and he has communicated with Atlantis and there are a number of other employers who are concerned about this because they want to ensure that they comply with the legislation which is to ensure a safe working environment,” Mr. Bell told reporters last week.
“In order to ensure a safe working environment, they must ensure that all of their employees are either vaccinated or tested to ensure they are not bringing COVID into the workplace. We were successful in convincing Atlantis and other private sector employers to delay the implementation of this policy. »
He also said last week: ‘I consulted with the Attorney General’s office and spoke with the Attorney General this morning to give us legal advice and we will be guided by the advice of the Attorney General. And so he has already, I believe, directed (officials) to ensure that advice is given in a timely manner and so I would await that advice, but Atlantis is delaying that policy. This is the main thing to have.