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White House says U.S. agencies can delay punishing unvaccinated federal workers

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The White House told federal agencies on Monday they can delay punishing thousands of federal workers who failed to comply with a Nov. 22 COVID-19 vaccination deadline.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration said a total of 92% of U.S. federal workers have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Overall, 96.5% of the 3.5 million federal workers were considered to be in compliance with the administration’s mandate announced in September because they either were vaccinated or had an exemption request granted or under consideration.

The White House said it was not delaying the vaccination deadline.

“We encourage your agencies to continue with robust education and counseling efforts through this holiday season as the first step in an enforcement process,” said an email from the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management.

It said no further action was needed, aside from potentially a letter of reprimand, for nearly all employees who have not yet complied with the vaccination requirement until January.

“We believe this approach is the best one to achieving our goal of getting the federal workforce vaccinated,” the email said, added that “agencies may need to act on enforcement sooner for a limited number of employees, such as where there are additional or compounding performance or workplace safety issues under consideration.”

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the largest federal employee union representing 700,000 government workers, praised the Biden Administration “for delaying vaccine mandate discipline.”

The Biden “administration has done the right thing by listening to federal workers, taking their concerns seriously, and giving those who haven’t yet gotten vaccinated some peace of mind this holiday season,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said in a statement.

The administration repeatedly had said it would not immediately seek to suspend or fire unvaccinated employees.

The White House previously said for federal employees not in compliance, agencies should begin “a brief period of education and counseling” to last five days. If employees do not “demonstrate progress toward becoming fully vaccinated,” that “should be followed by a short suspension” of no more than 14 days.

 

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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Britain says it is supplying anti-tank weapons to Ukraine

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Britain said on Monday it had begun supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons to help it defend itself from a potential invasion, during a stand-off with Russia which has massed troops near the Ukrainian border.

Western countries say they fear Russia is preparing a pretext for a new assault on Ukraine, which it invaded in 2014.

Moscow denies any plans for an attack, but has said it could take unspecified military action unless the West agrees to a list of demands, including banning Ukraine from ever joining NATO. Talks last week ended with no breakthrough. Kyiv has asked Western countries for arms to help it protect itself.

“We have taken the decision to supply Ukraine with light anti-armour defensive weapon systems,” British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told parliament, saying the first systems were already delivered on Monday and a small number of British personnel would provide training for a short period of time.

He did not specify the number or type of weapons that were being sent, but said: “They are not strategic weapons and pose no threat to Russia. They are to use in self-defence.”

“These are short-range …. but nevertheless it would make people pause and think what they were doing and if tanks were to roll into Ukraine, invade it, then they would be part of the defence mechanism.”

Ukraine’s defence minister welcomed Wallace’s announcement.

“Ukraine highly appreciates Britain’s decision to provide a new security package with light, anti-armour, defensive weapon systems!” Oleksii Reznikov said in a tweet.

Britain has previously warned Russia of severe consequences if it launched a new military assault on Ukraine, while offering financing to enhance Ukraine’s naval capabilities.

Wallace said he had invited Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to visit London in the next few weeks to discuss the crisis, though he did not know whether the Russians would accept.

“The current gap is wide but not unbridgeable,” Wallace said, voicing the hope that diplomacy would prevail and adding, “It is President (Vladimir) Putin’s choice.”

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Alistair Smout; additional reporting by Natalia Zinets and Matthias Williams; Editing by Kate Holton, Peter Graff and Howard Goller)

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Canada ends contract with Malaysia’s Supermax over labour allegations

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Canada has terminated its sourcing contract with Malaysian glove maker Supermax Corp following allegations about forced labour, the country’s public services and procurement department said on Tuesday.

“Based on the seriousness of the allegations and expected timelines for the final audit results, the Government of Canada has decided, and Supermax Healthcare Canada has agreed, to terminate by mutual consent the two existing contracts for the supply of nitrile gloves,” the department told Reuters in an emailed statement.

Supermax did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

(Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Ed Davies)

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Russia fines Google for not deleting banned content

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A Moscow court on Monday said it had ordered Alphabet’s Google to pay 4 million roubles ($52,526) for not removing access to content banned in Russia, the latest in a string of fines for the U.S. tech giant.

Russia upped the ante late last year in its efforts to increase pressure on Big Tech, handing massive, revenue-based fines to Google and Meta Platforms for repeatedly failing to remove content Moscow deems illegal.

Google declined to comment.

The TASS news agency reported that Google had been fined for providing access to links of banned websites.

($1 = 76.1530 roubles)

 

(Reporting by Alexander Marrow, Editing by Louise Heavens)

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