Clarity and Clear Direction Needed
IN THE midst of all the havoc created world-wide by the deadly coronavirus pandemic, the matter of vaccination as a viable means of curbing the spread of the disease looms large today. There is no shortage of information, misinformation and disinformation on the subject, yet confusion continues to reign posing a threat to the success of vaccination campaigns in countries large and small, rich and poor alike.
At the core of the vaccination debate, whether by conviction or convenience, is the matter of individual choice. While it is very relevant to the vaccination question, it is an issue long placed on the agenda by western economies which place the right to accumulate wealth, even at the expense of the well-being of the rest of the population, at a premium. It is a concept long used to justify the odious systems of slavery and colonisation, placing the so-called ‘right’ of the few above the well-being of the majority.
In the present-day context, especially in the Caribbean, the focus of this discussion is today on the matter of employee rights as governments, recognising the danger that low vaccination rates can pose to very open economies, highly dependent on the hospitality industry, grapple with a solution to the challenge.
Clearly, efforts at persuasion are not as effective as hoped, and with new strains of the COVID-19 threatening, a way has to be found both to ensure the health and well-being of the society, as well as to secure the lifeblood of our vulnerable economies.
There needs to be greater clarity about employer/employee rights and the law in relation to making vaccines mandatory in the workplace, particularly in very vulnerable sectors like those in healthcare and hospitality. In doing so, it is important that at all times, the core of the issue be the welfare of the society, not who comes out on top or who can find some legal justification for positions
which can hurt the local economy and the livelihoods and lives of people of the country. Too many egos are already being put on the line.
Prime Minister Gonsalves has publicly stated that our laws permit such mandatory vaccination in both the public and private sectors, but we have yet to see anything in writing or formal documentation from either the chambers of the Attorney General, or the office of the Labour Commissioner about this. The private sector is seeking guidance, but there has been no further clarification beyond the comments of the Prime Minister at a recent press conference.
The matter is not just confined to our shores, for the labour unions and governments in a couple other Caribbean countries have come out openly, charging that employers cannot make vaccination mandatory in the workplace, while there are other countries that support the position of our Prime Minister. It adds up to more confusion in an already confusing situation.
At the heart of the matter is the lack of a clear, inclusive and consultative process in handling this grave health threat and in ensuring health and safety, as well as the economic recovery of our battered economies. We cannot go on like this, there is too much to lose collectively. We are long past the stage of who is right or wrong, our health, safety and economic well-being demands that we face the issue squarely and come up with solutions in the best interests of all.