BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Sept. 30, 2021– Tomorrow, the Government of Belize will likely enact a new set of COVID-19 regulations requiring any person seeking to enter a government-owned building to present proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test. Today, however, the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) released a statement calling on the government to hold off on enacting the measures, citing the fact that GOB had not consulted workers represented by the NTUCB prior to drafting the new regulations.
These regulations, already drafted by the Attorney General’s Ministry, mandate that any persons “wishing to enter a public medical institution, government office, or the office of a statutory body produce a copy of their immunization card which shows that the date for their second shot has not elapsed or a negative rapid or PCR test conducted within the last 48 or 92 hours, respectively.”
The regulations, when enacted, will affect unvaccinated public servants and unvaccinated persons who need to visit offices in government buildings as well as statutory bodies to carry out day-to-day transactions.
Additionally, any persons having to enter the courts to attend or participate in a hearing, or who need to visit a police station to file a report, or those being remanded to the Belize Central Prison to serve time, will have to present a vaccination card or negative PCR or rapid test.
The regulations further state that GoB employees who work in these buildings and are barred from entry because of not having a vaccination card or a recent COVID-19 test will be subject to disciplinary proceedings, as they will be deemed absent from work.
The release from the NTUCB, in light of the impact that the new law will have on public workers, states, “NTUCB hereby signals its disappointment with the blatant disregard shown by the Government of Belize in not consulting with the Labour sector to include their positions in the COVID-19 policy development process.”
The NTUCB believes they have been sidelined by the Government of Belize, which they say has proceeded with the drafting of legislation which stands to affect hundreds of public servants and workers represented by the unions. In its release, the umbrella organization thus requests that the government take steps to correct its previous unilateral approach to the vaccine requirement.
“It is with this desire to support the GOB in the national public health efforts that the NTUCB urges the following corrective actions to restore public trust: 1) GOB should postpone the target 1st October 2021 rollout to allow for adequate consultation with the labor force on the vaccine/test policy,” the release states.
This afternoon, the president of the NTUCB, Luis Martinez, spoke to AMANDALA and indicated that while the NTUCB and its members are not taking a stance in opposition to the vaccine, they believe that the government’s decision to proceed with the formulation of policy without the proper consultations shows an unacceptable disregard for the importance of the role of workers and how they are affected by such policies.
Martinez said that there is no reason for the government to sideline the NTUCB, since they not only represent the majority of workers within the country but also have access to the expertise of the leading professionals in Belize — in this case those in the healthcare field, in particular.
“We have concerns about the government’s intention to roll out the vaccine and test policies across the public sector as of tomorrow without any kind of input from the labor force, the labor representative. We recognize that the government has a duty to develop reasonable measures to protect the public health, but you cannot ignore us, because we have healthcare professionals such as doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, lab techs, and so on. We have all of that. National Trade Union Congress affiliations nuh short ah nothing. Ask for it, we got it, so we don’t agree that these kind of things are supposed to happen, and basically we are telling the government that they should postpone the targeted 1st of October 2021 rollout to allow adequate consultations with the labor force,” Martinez remarked.
The release from the NTUCB thus states, “The NTUCB calls on GOB to rethink this rigid approach to policymaking and allow for meaningful collaboration and necessary consultation in the battle against COVID-19. Together we can win if we truly work together.”
Notably, while the upcoming law is being viewed as a soft mandate, the government has outlined an option for those who have not been vaccinated but need to enter a public building: the presentation of a negative COVID-19 test.
(The regulations do not apply to children under 12 or persons seeking emergency medical attention, but those seeking such care will be subject to a COVID-19 test. Also, persons detained and taken to a police station will not be required to present a vaccination card or recent test. )