Banks could be first to require CovidCheck for staff
Luxembourg banks could lead the way in asking staff to prove they are vaccinated against the coronavirus, after the government last Friday launched a plan to allow companies to roll out the controversial measure that saw an immediate backlash from labour unions.
Luxembourg's ABBL banking lobby welcomed the option, which comes as Prime Minister Xavier Bettel struggles to convince more people to take the shot, as part of a plan that would also oblige bars and restaurants to use the CovidCheck system before customers can sit down for a drink or a meal.
“Our members welcome it,” ABBL Chief Operating Officer Judith Gledhill said. “When we discussed the idea, it was fairly positively received because it is a way of managing the workplace better."
Luxembourg's government-owned BCEE, or Spuerkeess, is looking to use the CovidCheck system, spokeswoman Thorunn Egilsdottir said.
The Grand Duchy's vaccination rate sits below the average in the EU, with 74.1% of its adult residents fully vaccinated, according to the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDPC). That is well below its neighbours: in France, the number stands at 85%, in Germany at 77.4% and Belgium it is 85.4%.
Other banks could say within a week if they will be use the measure, ABBL's Gledhill said, adding that each company has the freedom to decide how to best organise themselves as more people returned to the office, given that the government was planning to make the CovidCheck system optional.
Anybody who has been fully vaccinated, has recovered from the disease or can show the negative outcome of a recent test passes the CovidCheck system, which consists of a QR code on paper on a mobile phone.
Once the bill is approved by parliament on 1 November, employers can refuse workers without a CovidCheck entry to their workplace, Bettel said in a press conference last week. The same would hold for staff refusing to provide information about their health condition.
A manager could decide to order such employees to work remotely, issue a warning or even withhold wages. In the public sector, disciplinary proceedings or dismissal are possible, the bill also said.
The Grand Duchy is later than its European peers in introducing measures to boost vaccinations. When France brought in similar measures, vaccination rates shot up. Yet in Luxembourg, the plan led to an immediate rebuttal from labour unions, who say the moves could violate employee privacy.
The "choice to be vaccinated or not constitutes a real threat or source of pressure for employees", the ALEBA union representing bank employees said in a press statement on Monday, arguing the measure could violate medical secrecy and the right to privacy and constitute discrimination.
And representatives of workers in Luxembourg's large public sector, the CGFC, also criticised the proposals, saying that penalties for non-compliant employees need to be more clearly defined and that firing workers should be a no-go.
Use of the Covidcheck system by banks would have an outsized impact on Luxembourg's economy, where banks make up a third of the country's economy and employ a total of 26,000 people, or 6% of the working population.
At the same time as introducing the CovidCheck system, banks also plan to have more defined policies on telework by the start of next year.
“Management accepts certain flexibility now,” said J. Carlos Córdoba Ordóñez, at Mirko Capital, adding that his company currently has no fixed policy on teleworking - but that may change as more people are returning to the office.
“Most Luxembourg banks expect to introduce - as from 1st January 2022 - a policy on teleworking in their organisation in order to introduce more flexibility and respond to new needs following the Covid pandemic...,” said Catherine Bourin, a member of the ABBL management board.
Other sectors are also thinking about a gradual return of workers to the office. European institutions, for example, are allowing a maximum of 50% of their employers in the office at once.
"In principle, all members of staff should work in the office at least one day per week," a spokesperson for the European Commission in the Grand Duchy said. “For the rest of the week, presence in the office will be voluntary.”
And accounting firm PwC has been asking employees to come into the office on average two days a week, Anne-Sophie Preud’homme, Luxembourg COO said.