The Saint Lucia Private Sector Council (PSC) held an urgent meeting of members last week to discuss growing private sector support for workforce vaccination policies. The meeting was attended by representatives of the St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce Industry and Agriculture, St. Lucia Manufacturers Association, St. Lucia Employers Federation, Saint Lucia Hospitality and Tourism Association, and the Bankers Association of St. Lucia.
This meeting followed months of discussions with small, medium, and large-scale members and entrepreneurs requesting guidance on this issue. The support by businesses for workplace vaccination policies has been revealed through multiple surveys conducted among the members of the Chamber of Commerce and the Saint Lucia Hospitality and Tourism Association. It comes at a time when repeated waves of the Covid-19 infections have placed a stranglehold on local, regional, and global economies bringing many to a near stand-still. An average of 70% of corporate members fully support vaccination policies and their institutions are now seeking a tri-partite-led effort between businesses, unions, and the Government to address this issue at a national level. The Private Sector Council points to the legal and medical advice that continues to support vaccination workplace policies.
Noting that many countries are emerging from the stranglehold of the pandemic due to relatively high levels of vaccination of their workforce, St. Lucia is hamstrung by very low vaccination rates and high numbers of infections, severe sickness and deaths caused by COVID-19. Vaccination is accepted, along with adherence to the safety protocols, as the most proven measure to safeguard the health of workers and mitigate long-term negative impacts on their lives.
Vaccination is seen by most members as a critical next step on the road to the social and economic recovery of St. Lucia. In fact, the business community grows increasingly concerned over the continued sustainability of operations, given the reduced hours of business caused by scale-back of commercial activity through curfews and confinements that in turn lead to reduced need for paid employees.
Notwithstanding the increase in the number of vaccinated people on the island over the past two months, members of the Private Sector Council agree that the rate of inoculation in St. Lucia was far too low for the Government to employ a more aggressive return to normalcy, i.e. removal or curfew and removal of restrictions on social gatherings ahead of the yuletide season. Productivity losses resulting from covid-19 related sicknesses and quarantines have and continue to take a heavy toll on operating costs of businesses and now threaten long-term employment of staff. In some sectors, growing consumer preference for service from a fully vaccinated staff cohort was also acknowledged.
These among other factors, members believe, dictate the need for quick and deliberate national action to safeguard the lives of St. Lucians, build some level of sustainability of employment while improving Saint Lucia’s social and economic resilience to future shocks. Swift and decisive action now on the part of policymakers, could very well pave the way for a robust holiday season. Timing is critical. The Private Sector Council calls on the Government to urgently convene a national dialogue with unions, the private sector council, the Department of Labour, and the Attorney General’s Chambers, among others, to facilitate action.