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Asia Pacific Report newsdesk

Papua New Guinea’s Department of Labour has broken its silence over the government’s stance on covid-19 testing requirements in the “no jab no jobs” controversy, reports the PNG Post-Courier.

It has called on employers and employees to exercise common sense and ensure that businesses are allowed to continue and embrace workplace safety rules.

Labour and Industrial Relations Minister Tomait Kapili said at the weekend that the department, working with workers’ unions and employer representatives, had issued a joint communiqué that would support business continuity and protect employees during the ongoing isolation strategy period and beyond.

He said any new workplace policies developed by employers on covid-19 vaccinations must comply with the provisions of the National Pandemic Act.

Kapili also announced that the department was dealing with the controversial “no-jab-no-job” stance adopted by some businesses on a case-by-case basis.

He said covid-19 was not an outcome of work-related issues, so employees and employers should not be disadvantaged during the isolation period.

“This situation is not brought about by the employers or the workers, so neither party should be disadvantaged during this isolation period,” Kapili said in a statement.

Safe work practices
“All employers and employees are encouraged to embrace safe work practices. Employers are further encouraged to make arrangements to maintain normal services under the New Normal as provided for under the New Normal protocols and in compliance with the national isolation strategy being imposed.

“All employers are encouraged to maintain the salaries, wages and employment contracts of all their employees.”

He said that while vaccination was voluntary, employers were encouraged to implement their basic occupational health and safety (OHS) policies, as first-up measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

“Employers should not encourage redundancy exercises during the period. As workers are the front-liners and their exposure to covid-19 will be deemed high, it is important that safety measures, either temporary or permanent, are built into the workplaces to minimise the spread of the virus.

“Discriminative practices requiring testing, isolation, quarantine, and monitoring should be avoided.

“Where an employee is aggrieved by the actions of an employer, the employee can formally lodge a complaint with the Department of Labour and Industrial Relations.”

Awareness of two laws
Kapili said the legal context to deal with covid-19 at the workplace must take into consideration two laws that should govern covid-19 workplace-related activities.

These are the COVID-19 National Pandemic Act 2020 and the Industrial Safety, Health, and Welfare Act (Chapter 175) of 1961 and Regulations 1965, in administering the Occupational Safety, Health and Welfare Act.

The administration of covid-19 vaccination falls within the ambit of the National Pandemic Act 2020 for any interpretation such that we cannot use the duty of care concept as a reason for compulsory vaccination on workers.

“Any workplace policies developed by employers on the covid-19 vaccination, must be consistent with and adhere to the provisions of the National Pandemic Act 2020,” he said.

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