Republic Bank Independence Square

In what could potentially be a landmark case, the Banking, Insurance and General Workers’ Union (BIGWU) filed an Industrial Court complaint against Republic Bank Limited yesterday morning.

The complaint argues that Republic Bank contravened Sections 12 and 37 of the Occupational and Safety Health Act by establishing a policy mandating all unvaccinated employees to get two PCR COVID-19 tests a month at their expense.

“We are in a pandemic. We are being consumed. We have to deal with a virus that is cold and heartless. We expect the bank is also understanding of workers and they do not behave like a virus that is cold and heartless,” BIGWU second vice-president Jason Brown said.

The complaint stated, “What you are doing them is discriminatory, unfair, unjust and unlawful.”

The union pointed to the OSH Act in its claim that the bank’s mandatory vaccination policy is illegal.

According to Section 12(1) of the OSH Act, “No employer shall levy or permit to be levied on any employee of his in respect of anything done or provided in pursuance of any specific requirement of this act, except in respect of – (a) foodstuffs and other items served in a canteen; (b) things lost or damaged wilfully or through the negligence of the employee; and (c) protective clothing and devices where the employee is employed for one month or less.”

Section 37 (1) of the act states that a person seeking employment, or who is already employed, in an industrial establishment may be required by the employer to undergo a medical examination as a pre-condition of permanent employment or to determine fitness for work, except in places of work as the minister may exempt.

However, Section 37 (2) of the act adds that the cost of the medical examination shall be borne by the employer.

According to Brown, it is also unethical because the average monthly salary for a Republic Bank employee is $10,000.

“The cost of a PCR test in some instances is $1,500. You are asking this employee to put out almost 50 per cent of his disposable income on something to determine their fitness for work, which, you as the employer, are supposed to be responsible for? That is unconscionable,” BIGWU’s first vice president Don Devenish said.

Devenish claimed that while the bank could be fined under the act, potentially costing it millions, the union chose not to go that route.

He said BIGWU just wants Republic Bank to withdraw its policy and reimburse employees who may have already paid for PCR tests.

In response to BIGWU’s claims, Republic Bank Limited issued a release, titled “Republic Bank remains committed to a safe return to work policy.”

The release stated, “The bank has and continues to take the necessary measures to ensure the safety and well-being of all staff who returned to work last Monday, September 6, 2021. As a responsible employer and corporate citizen, our primary concern remains the safety and well-being of all our employees, customers and the economic recovery of the country.”

The bank added that it wished to thank the more than 2,700 members of staff who have been fully vaccinated.