WHEN a new government is voted in, it is important to hit the ground running – and for ministers, that can mean making a strong first impression.
For Keith Bell, the new Labour and Immigration Minister, the opportunity to make that impression came when dealing with the news that Atlantis was to start charging unvaccinated staff for their rapid antigen tests as of October 1.
Less than a week ago, Mr Bell told reporters that Atlantis had agreed to “hold off” its policy of charging unvaccinated staff for the tests after discussions between labour officials and resort executives.
At the time, he said: “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.
“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 employees to hold off on implementing that policy.
“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.”
Not so, it seems. Those who choose not to go and get the free vaccine now face a weekly charge of $16.50 for the cost of the rapid antigen test.
Now there is of course a legal debate to be had over the right of an employer to pass the cost of a test onto their employee.
What was Keith Bell thinking, however? That by saying the words he could make it so?
He may have been trying to make people think he was on the case and present a strong image of a minister who was getting things done – instead, he’s given the impression he might not know what he’s talking about. Credibility is hard to win and easy to lose.
As of last night, no formal government position on the latest Atlantis developments has been forthcoming – with newly reappointed Director of Labour Robert Farquharson unable to be reached for comment despite numerous phone calls and emails.
The people left high and dry in this are the workers who might have thought the matter was resolved and that they didn’t need to budget for the extra cost of the test.
In a letter to staff last week, Atlantis president Audrey Oswell made it clear to staff: “Atlantis will not pay the cost of testing indefinitely. We also will not continue to encourage testing as an alternative to vaccination.”
People need to be able to see that ministers are trying their best to represent people’s concerns. But they also need to be able to trust what ministers have to say.
On that count, Mr Bell is off to a bad start – and the failure of government to respond since then is not creating a great impression either.
We need straight answers, Mr Bell, not flim flam – and Atlantis workers need to hear from you today.
FNM speaks up
The character reference written by then Opposition leader, now Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis for Island Luck co-founder Adrian Fox has stirred considerable concern.
Remarkably, it has also finally stirred the now-Opposition FNM into life, bringing them to condemn Mr Davis’ move as “astonishing and reprehensible.”
Mr Fox has agreed to plead guilty to operating a vessel in US waters “in a grossly negligent manner” in a deal that has seen all mention of the human smuggling offences he was initially charged with removed.
Mr Davis has said he’d do it again – and he wasn’t alone in offering his support, with a number of other senior PLPs writing references.
The FNM talks of the prospect of “national embarrassment” if each letter writer was summoned to testify, but they know that’s not going to happen.
But the party has been notable for its silence in recent days, and this has stirred them from their slumber, it seems. Every government needs a strong Opposition – and it’s time the FNM shook off its election hangover and got on with that.
A conference to elect a new leader cannot come soon enough.