The Hotel Association of Northern Marianas Islands and the Saipan Chamber of Commerce have assailed the additional cost imposed on various businesses in connection with the proposed health screening of all workers who deal with food preparation.
Although both organizations believe that the health of people who directly handle food preparation is important, they asked the Department of Public Health to make sure that the requirement is cost effective and efficient.
The proposed health screening will cost $150 per worker annually plus lost work time.
“There are a lot of merits to the proposal because the people’s health is at stake but the rate should be reasonable. I don’t mind the procedures but it seems that this is another fund raising for the government,” said Joe Ayuyu, president of the Chamber. Exams for food handlers on Guam cost $10 to $20 while Hawaii does not
charge anything for the requirement, according to Ayuyu.
DPH Secretary Kevin Villagomez had proposed on Oct. 15, 1998 the adoption of a new regulation requiring all workers who deal with food preparation undergo additional health test testing once a year for various communicable diseases.
According to Ron Sablan, president of HANMI, the association agrees on the need to ensure that people who are handling and serving food in various restaurants, hotels or fastfood establishments. However, the government should include such screening into existing health exam requirement, not increase the cost of doing business by adding one more examination.
“We see no value to taking employees off the job to go through two separate health exams each year. We don’t disagree with the intent of the proposed regulations, but this is just one more example of a government agency adding to the already high costs of doing business here without thinking things through,” said Sablan.
Aside from the cost of health examination, each worker would have to pay a $20 fee to obtain a “Food Handler Certificate,” which would be borne by the employee.
Employees found to be infected with communicable disease would not be allowed to work until they are cured. However, under existing health regulations, the employer does not have the authority to see the test results, so there is no way of knowing immediately if the employee should be immediately taken off the job.
On the other hand, DPH would have the right to see the results and would have the authority to close down a restaurant until it is assured that such establishment imposes no threat to people’s health.
Sablan also questioned the validity of passing a local law that would conflict with federal laws, citing recent actions by the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which does not allow an employer to discriminate against an employee for reasons of health or disability.
“We’re setting ourselves up for more lawsuit against businesses and conflicts with the federal government. This must be fully investigated before our local government sets up our businesses to be used later under EEOC for violations of the Americans Disabilities Act,” said Sablan.
Owners of establishments must submit their comments on the proposed regulation before Dec. 15.