By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
ATLANTIS has maintained its position that unvaccinated employees are financially responsible for their weekly rapid antigen tests despite a recent announcement from a government minister that the resort had agreed to hold off on the policy.
A spokesperson for the mega resort yesterday told The Tribune the policy took effect on October 1.
“Atlantis has not changed its stance as it relates to non-vaccinated team members,” a brief statement from the Paradise Island resort noted. “As of October 1, all non-vaccinated team members are now financially responsible for their rapid antigen test.”
Labour and Immigration Minister Keith Bell told reporters less than a week ago that Atlantis had agreed to “hold off” on implementing its COVID-19 vaccination policy for unvaccinated staff after several discussions were held between labour officials and resort executives on the new rule.
However this is not the case.
The hotel’s refusal to stand down was met yesterday with harsh criticism from Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union President Darrin Woods who called the policy “modern day slavery.”
When contacted, Mr Woods said requiring workers to pay $16.50 per week for rapid antigen tests was not only a financial burden, but a tool to force people to get vaccinated.
“We actually turned that over to the Labour Department 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 be rolling back but now apparently they went ahead with it.”
He also said: “We still believe that the workers shouldn’t pay. We are looking for them to enforce the law.
“They are not supposed to be doing this. You are asking people to pay. . .$17. These people get paid every two weeks and plus they are only working 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 comes about. You get people to do what you want them to do by doing some things to them. Financially is one way to enslave people. Their jobs is another way. Its modern-day slavery. That’s what it is.”
In a letter sent to staff last Wednesday, Audrey Oswell, Atlantis’ president and managing director, announced that all unvaccinated staff will be “financially responsible” for paying for their weekly $16.50 rapid antigen test starting October 1.
The policy was announced earlier this year and initially expected to come into effect in September.
According to Ms Oswell, the order was a part of the resort’s approach in “putting the community’s health and the economy first.”
“As we have shared since July, Atlantis will not pay the cost of testing indefinitely. We also will not 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 an essential role in helping achieve a COVID-free Bahamas, which is the only path forward for our economy and tourism to thrive again,” she said.
In response, Mr Bell last week said government officials were seeking advice from the Office of the Attorney General on the matter, however he told reporters that Atlantis had agreed to delay the policy.
“I have reached out to the Director of Labour, Mr Robert Farquharson, and he’s communicated with Atlantis and there are a number of other employers who are concerned about that because they want to ensure that they comply with the legislation which is to ensure a safe work environment,” Mr Bell told reporters last week.
“In order to ensure that there is a safe work environment, they have to ensure that all of their employees are either vaccinated or tested to make sure that they don’t bring COVID into the workplace. We have been able to convince Atlantis and the other private sector employers to hold off on implementing that policy.”
He also said last week: “I’ve consulted with the Office of the Attorney General and I’ve spoken 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 the advice is given timely and so I would wait on that advice, but Atlantis is holding off on that policy. That’s the main thing to be had.”