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COVID19: Employers refusing to pay for frontline tests

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Cyprus frontline employees of supermarkets, grocery stores and bakeries who are legally required to be tested for coronavirus until 28 April are having a hard time complying as employers are reluctant to cover the cost.

As private-sector labs are close to completing the number of tests allocated by the Health Ministry within the framework of the 20,000 tests paid by the state, employers are refusing to pick up the tab, leaving a large number of employees exposed.

Employers are obligated by the decree to pay to have their employees tested if they were not covered by the ministry testing scheme, which works on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Some employees have also been reporting that labs are not answering their calls when they call to book an appointment, or they are being told that the labs have met their quota of tests assigned by the Health Ministry.

Media outlets have been receiving a number of such complaints with trade union PEO confirming these reports.

PEO General Secretary Pampis Kyritsis said: “Employees are facing many problems in their efforts to be tested. There are no tests, they (labs) are not giving out appointments, there is difficulty in communication as many calls go unanswered”.

He criticised authorities saying that when a scheme is announced, it must be applied in practice, because if not, then the responsibility is transferred to the employee.

Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou was quoted by Phileleftheros daily, saying, “the Ministry is aware of the situation and we have sent out letters to some labs, not following the guidelines. Any lab not complying with the guidelines will not be paid for its services”.

He said, “the employer is prohibited from transferring the cost to the employee…the examination of employees is the employer’s obligation”.

According to the relevant decree effective as of 14 April, “employees of supermarkets, bakeries, and also of businesses active in the food and beverage supply chain (production, delivery, client-facing personnel), nursing homes, groceries, kiosks, butchers and fishmongers are obliged to be tested by 28 April midnight”.

The decree clarifies that employers have obligated to cover the cost of the tests in the case their employees are not able to take the test within the government testing scheme.

In line with the decree, the maximum cost for the COVID-19 test has been set at €110 (excluding VAT).

Some 6,000 tests out of the 20,000 (30%) have been assigned for employees in businesses in retail trade of food and drinks. Recommendations have been given to labs to maintain this percentage.

To date, 2,000 tests have been completed on staff in retail trade in food and drinks.

According to official data from the labs, appointments for the remaining 4,000 tests at specific points have already been made and there is a limited number left, said the Health Ministry in a statement.