Government paid £92K for builders’ Covid tests

COVID testing for a French construction firm building a St Helier development has cost the government more than £90,000.

Picture: ROB CURRIE.
Picture: ROB CURRIE.

Group Legendre has been working with the Jersey Development Company on the Horizon development at the Waterfront since 2018.

The cost of testing construction workers since the onset of the pandemic was £92,394, according to a government response to a freedom of information request.

Staff were also granted exemptions from isolation ‘solely for the purpose of undertaking their work’, the response stated, which were granted on the condition that when on the site ‘they were completely segregated from non-isolating workers at all times’. The government said that Group Legendre employees remained in isolation at their accommodation at all times when not at work.

Fewer than five tested positive for Covid-19. Freedom of information disclosure rules prevent numbers under five being reported.

In a statement, the government said the construction staff were tested as part of the ‘critical worker exemption’ programme. It added: ‘The aim of this programme was to ensure essential skills were available quickly in Jersey, while ensuring Covid safety by providing PCR testing. This was an agreed government policy, and as such, the government funded the tests.’

When the joint venture was announced in 2018, then Treasury Minister, Senator Alan Maclean, defended the move to go into partnership with a French firm, saying that local construction companies were too busy.

St Helier Deputy Carina Alves said that despite the drop in infections, testing of incoming workers should continue. But she questioned whether staff from overseas were needed in the first place. She said: ‘The threat still hasn’t gone away, and we don’t know what winter will bring.

‘But I’ve never agreed with companies asking foreign workers to come in if we have enough qualified people on the Island.

‘Sometimes companies tell us to “shop local” but they don’t always “look local” for staff.

‘If we don’t have the expertise on the Island then I can understand it, and the cost of testing is justified. But I don’t know to what lengths they are going to recruit locally.’

Senator Steve Pallett also said that he was supportive of the Island providing free tests for the workers at Legendre and more broadly.

‘I was supportive of free testing and while this was a lot of money and there is an argument that private business should have had to pay for this, the construction sector was one of the first sectors to recover and start up again and we do have a very strong need for more housing in the Island,’ he said.

Group Legendre had not replied to a request for comment by the time this article went to print.

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