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Business world calls for government help to perform tests on workers

Many small-medium sized businesses don’t have resources to carry out coronavirus tests on staff the way large firms can

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08 May 2020 05:38 PM

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ACN | Barcelona

Larger companies are able to return to work with the safety blanket of performing regular Covid-19 tests on their employees, offering some degree of security as the country eases out of lockdown. 

But for many smaller businesses, this is not a possibility due to the costs involved. 

However, Catalan business minister Àngels Chacón is pleased to offer tests to companies in the commercial sector, which could give the public and business owners some peace of mind, as it’s one of the sectors most exposed and therefore at risk of infection.

"I am convinced that testing is one of the only ways to guarantee the peace of mind of both businesses and our customers," admits Àlex Goñi, the president of PIMEComerç, the commercial leg of Catalonia’s biggest businesses association. 

Capacity of large firms 

But for now, every company is acting in any capacity they’re able to. Carmaker Seat, for example, announced in late April that it would do serological tests on its 15,000 employees, with about 3,000 a week, and that the results, anonymous, would be part of a scientific study to fight the coronavirus. Airliner Iberia is another large firm doing tests on workers. 

The measure, at the same time, allows the company a chance to detect possible cases and isolate them, thus avoiding contagion outbreaks while the staff is at work, which still operates at much lower rates than usual.

But most large companies do not want to say publicly that they are testing, especially given the shortcomings that still exist in some key sectors, and that there is also no clear protocol on how to proceed. 

César Sánchez, director of the occupational risk prevention office at Foment, one of Catalonia’s largest business associations, admits that plenty of large companies are carrying out tests on their employees and that many were trying to coordinate on how to proceed in the face of the uncertainties.

For now "there is no single criterion" and each company acts "according to its prevention service," Sánchez explains to the Catalan News Agency. "We hope that some criteria will be established because otherwise, everything will depend on the possibilities of each company," he added

Calls for testing across commercial sector

From PIMECComerç, Àlex Goñi urges that "tests should be made" and explains that associations and employers are all calling for tests as they return to the working world. For now, however, they have chosen to give masks and thermometers to help companies.

In fact, companies are working in a hurry to adapt their facilities to the resumption of activity and the "new normal" after the coronavirus. Masks, sanitizer, and goggles are common in many companies, from shops to restaurants, to offices or beauty salons and hairdressers.

All this involves an added cost for all companies, which employers associations believe should be compensated by the government with direct aid or tax breaks. "It's totally legal," César Sánchez defends.

"There are sectors that will have significant costs arising from the implementation of a whole series of measures, and obviously should have the support of the administration," he adds.

According to this expert in occupational risk prevention, no company could have anticipated the situation arising from the pandemic, which from its point of view is a public health problem that cannot be equated with a traditional occupational risk arising from the activity of companies.

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  • A worker at the Buff factory has her temperature read as one of the safety precautions upon returning to work (by Gemma Aleman)

  • A worker at the Buff factory has her temperature read as one of the safety precautions upon returning to work (by Gemma Aleman)

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