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How businesses in Latvia encourage employees to vaccinate

From bonuses to reprimanding - businesses of Latvia are actively trying to motivate their employees to get their vaccines against Covid-19 so business can operate as usual, Rus.lsm.lv reported May 30.

LSM's Russian language service spoke to smaller Latvian-registered businesses and larger businesses with foreign capital. Each face their own issues when it comes to vaccination.

Alis Co

Alis Co, distributor of dried fruit and nuts, employs 65 workers. The employees are mostly of senior age and Russian-speaking.

“I understand they mostly “sit” in the Russian information room, [say]: “If there were Sputnik vaccines we would have got them immediately … But I am 90% convinced that if they were brought Sputnik or whatever, they would still find arguments to avoid vaccination,” said the owner of Alis Co, Aleksandrs Litevskis.

People are motivated by different methods. One of the methods is bonuses. "We allow them not to wear a mask in the factory. It seemed to work, four more people said, yes, let's go get a jab. And for those who bring a statement of vaccination, a premium is paid. EUR 50 after the first dose, double that after the second," said Litevskis.

How many out of 65 people, despite the promised benefits, still don't want to vaccinate? About 35, said the company's chief executive. “Well, what can I do … When you talk to people, you hear conspiracy theories that all this virus was invented... And HOW to talk to them? People who work in packaging, unlikely that they have higher education, such people don't come to us.”

However, the company has almost decided that vaccination against Covid-19 will be a criterion in selecting new employees.

SAF Tehnika

The technology company SAF Tehnika has over 200 employees, and around 80% have got the shot without special encouragement, said co-owner Normunds Bergs. Around 40 have not got it. Bergs said he thinks half of those have not got the jab "due to technical reasons" - couldn't make it, had been ill and suchlike. But the other half, around 20 employees, are "very interesting people", said Bergs.

“There are even a couple of those who are waiting for Sputnik. And, interestingly, most of these 20 percent are with Russian surnames and with secondary education, [work] mainly in manufacturing, assembling. They still live in another information room. Among engineers, I have very, very few people who haven't received a shot. There are no problems with engineers and salespeople, including the Russians – they are all educated people. But for those who work in the assembly, I think that Russian television has a strong influence.”

For the time being, the company does not plan to pay bonuses to employees for vaccination. However, they will preserve their existing premiums for the vaccinated people and cut them for those who refuse to get the shot.

“At the moment, we are still in the process of development, but the idea is very simple. If you haven't been vaccinated and have no obvious medical reasons, you'll only get 50% or 30% of the premium you'd otherwise get in full,” Bergs said.

But one cannot blame people, said Bergs. “There are very different people and causes. We see that family doctors are also very, very different. There are people who don't understand, are afraid, or have the family doctor told them - wait until autumn, maybe until then everyone who's been vaccinated will die? And as an employer, you can't even find any counter-arguments for what a family doctor has said. You have to find another specialist who knows the subject and can work with such people.”

Off the record

Some companies only spoke to Rus.lsm.lv while remaining anonymous. 

"Our collective has a few anti-vaxxers. I will talk to them again, if they don't get the jab, I'll kick them out. I will find an article in the law for that. Because it is a plague - they also draw in the unconvinced ones in their disbelief," said the owner of a medium-sized business.

Owner of another company said: "I have a whole cell of the crazy antivaxxers in one department, about a quarter of the group. Another quarter have been vaccinated, but a half are still thinking. And one brought Covid, and the whole department is sitting in quarantine as contact persons! But these are real losses, work is stalling. And in the future, it is clear that if it continues, the antivaxxers will have to be fired. But for the time being, I will dress the [unvaccinated] in hazmat suits and make them wear cast-iron underwear. I will be horrible and act ruthlessly. All the worst that is possible legally, I will do. Because in reality, if you need the person in the office and he doesn't want to vaccinate, you have to create a separate infrastructure. You can't put them with another. It is a real inconvenience, it is dangerous, and it costs money."

Rimi, Maxima, Latvenergo

Unlike the medium-sized businesses, where the vaccination process for employees is almost controlled by the owners, the largest companies surveyed by Rus.lsm.lv – retailers Rimi and Maxima, as well as the state energy company Latvenergo – intervene at a minimum. For example, none of these companies know (and say they haven't even tried to find out) how much of the collective has already been vaccinated. 

There is another surprising difference. Medium-sized entrepreneurs directly acknowledge that unvaccinated people are a financial blow to business. Large corporations say that they do not see a serious threat yet.

“Our HR thinks it's sensitive data, so [the number of vaccinated in the collective] we have not tried to clarify this,” said Juris Šleiers, head of public relations at Rimi. Maxima and Latvenergo agree.

There are no material incentives, bonuses or premiums in the big companies. For the time being, the large companies surveyed by Rus.lsm.lv give only a small amount of relief, and they refer to the timetable. An employee can take a day off on the day of the vaccine at Latvenergo, whereas at Rimi it is allowed to go get the vaccine during working hours.

Vaccination in the workplace

Collective vaccination can also be organized in the workplace. But for medics to come to the company, it needs at least 25 people who want to get the vaccine. The service is free of charge.

According to Lursoft data, there were 4055 companies in Latvia last year with 25 and more employees. 162 collective applications from employers have been submitted National Health Service told Rus.lsm.lv. Such interest is considered to be high. 

However, the medics themselves recommend, if possible, vaccinating in an individual order – it is quicker than waiting for the employer's application for collective vaccination to be met. Moreover, even some business leaders are just thinking about their collective vaccination. One of the problems, according to them, is the complex administration of the process.

“If we had one office, like airBaltic, it would be very convenient. But for us, a large portion of the 7,700 employees are essentially divided among 175 separate stores. Organizing collective vaccination in each shop is a complex process, it is easier and more efficient for people to be individually vaccinated,“  the representative of Maxima said.

“We are still thinking about collective vaccination if there is a big demand, perhaps we will do it in our central office. In the meantime, we are calling on people to get the jabs themselves in an individual order,“ said the Rimi representative.

 

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