Employers’ representatives call on the government to provide companies with testing kits and to set up testing sites where employers can test their employees. When the nationwide testing was first announced in Slovakia, with the condition that all those who test positive will have to remain isolated at home, some companies worried about what would happen if they suddenly lacked key workers.
By Monday it was clear these concerns had not materialised. Altogether 3,625,332 people were tested in the first round of the nationwide testing around the country on October 31 and November 1, of which 38,359 or 1.06 percent tested positive. Companies indicated that they could cope with vacancies of up to 10 percent of their workforce.
“We do not register any significant outage of the labour force in any sector of the Slovak economy and the operation of companies is more or less fluid,” Miriam Filová, spokesperson of the Federation of Employers’ Associations (AZZZ) told The Slovak Spectator.
The Slovak Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SOPK) and the association of the biggest employers, Klub 500, call on the government to allow life in the country return to normal given that all preventive measures are maintained and strict anti-pandemic measures focus on places with a high occurrence of the novel coronavirus.
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“As the results of the nationwide testing are relatively favourable, we see no reason to keep schools, restaurants and hotels closed or other services limited,” SOPK and Klub 500 write the Igor Matovič cabinet. They are calling on the cabinet to sit down with representatives of employers, municipalities and trade unions to discuss the results and next steps.
Peter Serina, executive director of the Business Alliance of Slovakia (PAS), points out that the Igor Matovič cabinet forced employees to undergo the tests and it even gave companies the power to check whether they did so.
Based on a regulation issued by the Public Health Authority (ÚVZ), employers can ask employees to show their certificates with results of the testing and allow only those with a negative result to enter the workplace.
Positive employees, as well as those whose family members were positive, are obliged to remain in 10-day quarantine. Also those who did not undergo an antigen or PCR test while not exempt from testing due to their health condition should stay in quarantine.
Peter Mihók, chairman of the Slovak Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SOPK), noted that many companies had tested their employees long before the nationwide testing and operatively solved situations where key employees contracted COVID-19 or tested positive.
Carmakers and others tested on site
Approximately 20 companies in Slovakia used the possibility of testing their employees for coronavirus in-house as part of the nationwide testing.
The state allowed companies with more than 4,000 employees to perform in-house testing while providing them with registration forms and antigen testing kits. This limit did not mean that a specific factory had to have the specified number of staff, it could also have been an entire industrial park.
Also so-called strategic companies, like the electricity generator Slovenské Elektrárne or the steelmaker U.S. Steel Košice (USSK), were able to test their employees on their own even though they did not meet the limit of 4,000 employees. This is because it is of strategic importance that these companies keep operating. These companies were allowed to start testing on Friday, October 29.
Carmakers Volkswagen Slovakia and the Trnava-based PSA Groupe Slovakia organised testing on their own.
VW Slovakia tested more than 10,600 people working on the premises of its Bratislava plant during four shifts, 1.33 percent testing positive. These included employees of partner companies. The carmaker has responded flexibly to this situation and has not registered any fundamental negative impacts on its production.
Companies have lacked information and pointed out constantly changing directives from organisers of the nationwide testing.
“Organising such a large-scale event at one’s own expense was extremely demanding for the company,” Lucia Kovarovič Makayová, spokesperson of Volkswagen Slovakia, told The Slovak Spectator. She added that they received the final approval to organise the in-house testing of the authorities only on Tuesday evening, i.e. two days before the testing started on Friday at VW Slovakia.
Out of about 4,500 employees of PSA Groupe Slovakia 1,587 or more than 37 percent used the possibility to undergo the test on the premises of the company. Four were positive.
Another two carmakers, Kia Motors Slovakia in Teplička nad Váhom and Jaguar Land Rover, did not organise their own testing. One of the reasons was that they produce cars only during work days while the nationwide testing was planned for Saturday and Sunday. They called on their employees to use public testing venues.
At Kia Motors Slovakia, the production resumed on Monday without any limitations when the share of coronavirus positive employees was at the regional level, informed Ján Žgravčák, spokesperson of Kia Motors Slovakia.
Jaguar Land Rover also restarted two-shift production in a standard regime on Monday when the vacancies were below the nationwide average of positive cases, company spokesperson Miroslava Remenárová informed.
Stand-by teams were ready at refinery
Slovenské Elektrárne registered 0.74 percent of positive employees, or 26 people, when 82 percent of its employees used the possibility of in-house testing, informed the company’s spokesperson Oľga Baková.
USSK, which has about 9,500 employees including its daughter companies, tested 2,659 people in total on two testing sites on its premises. One was public and used by 1,445 people. The second one was for its key employees and those working in continuously operating units registered in advance. These numbered 1,214.
“The number of positive workers increased by 56 people this weekend,” said Jozef Bača, USSK spokesperson, adding that the steelmaker has registered a total of 125 positive workers since the start of the epidemic.
Weekend testing at USSK in Košice.
The Slovnaft refinery uncovered 10 positive cases, or 0.3 percent out of its roughly 3,400 workers, while this has not endangered its production. A total of 2,155 workers used its two testing sites on its premises while others underwent the test at public testing sites.
“In the event the testing showed that critical production employees were coronavirus positive, stand-by teams were prepared, able to secure the further operation of the refinery,” Anton Molnár, spokesperson of Slovnaft, told The Slovak Spectator. He added that given the low number of positive cases, the deployment of these teams was not needed while they remain prepared.
The share of positive employees at passenger railway operator ŽSSK and national rail infrastructure operator ŽSR were also not as high as to endanger their operation significantly. Three regional electricity distribution companies also reported the share of positive cases at the regional levels as not endangering the distribution of electricity in Slovakia.
The testing at chemical and pharmaceutical companies ended better than expected, noted Roman Karlubík, president of Slovakia’s Pharmaceutical and Chemical Industry Association, as cited by SITA. The numbers of positive cases mimicked the results of the nationwide testing and most companies reported a minimal outage of employees. Only some companies with a higher share of positive cases were forced to close some production lines or reduce production capacities while Karlubík did not specify.
Bakeries have reported a 3.5 percent outage of employees, but their operation is neither limited nor disrupted. Most of them filled vacancies with workers from other shifts, merged distribution lines or reduced their assortment
Firms determined to continue testing
The business sector hopes that the results of the nationwide testing would avert a lockdown of Slovakia. AZZZ warned that indications of a possible lockdown voiced by politicians has already had a negative impact on trade relations.
“Even contracts might be scrapped as a consequence of uncertainty,” wrote AZZZ in its statement.
Employer representatives are calling on the government to provide companies with testing kits and to set up state testing sites where employers can test their employees. While companies can cope with a 10-percent outage of its employees with some problems, 20 percent means a crisis and 30 percent a collapse, according to AZZZ president Tomáš Malatinský.
“Regular testing can detect positive cases in time and companies can prepare for critical situations,” said Filová.