State v Unions – The Controversy Continues
March 24, 2023

State v Unions – The Controversy Continues

Talk as we may about “post-Covid”, there are many repercussions from that dreaded experience still with us and affecting public life.

The ongoing industrial dispute between the state, as employer, and public sector unions over whether they abandoned their jobs after refusing to abide by the government’s vaccine mandate, or were fired for their refusal, is undoubtedly the most prominent of them.

On the eve of National Heroes Day, Justice Esco Henry ruled in favour of the unions ordering the reinstatement of those workers so affected, and granting compensation. There was elation, quite naturally on the part of the workers and unions. One week later the mood has changed to protest as the state has exercised its right to appeal the decision.

Whichever way the judge had ruled, it is fair to say that an appeal had been expected. One would have expected that given the weighty matters involved. Thus, it is strange to say the least to hear from the union leadership and lawyers involved, strident objections to the state’s course of action.

Dissatisfaction with the course chosen is understandable, but to insist that the state should not appeal, and worse, to threaten a complete shutdown of the entire public service as one union leader is reported to have said, is incomprehensible.

No reasonable person would deny that the public servants who refused to be vaccinated and were therefore deemed to have “ abandoned their jobs” have been experiencing significant hardship through loss of income for well over a year.

But, the state argues, in July 2022, the door was opened for those so affected to reapply for employment. Some did, and have eased their burden, but many did not, saying it was a matter of principle. We empathize with the hardships our fellow citizens continue to face, but that in and of itself is not sufficient reason for the judgement not to be appealed.

The consequences of this case are far-reaching, not just here in St Vincent and the Grenadines, but throughout the Eastern Caribbean. There must be complete clarity in relation to what powers our governments have to make laws or pass orders in times of emergency and the procedures they ought to follow in doing so. In addition, the state argues that such clarity cannot rest with the ruling of a single judge.

There are experienced lawyers on both sides and both have expressed confidence in their interpretation of the Constitution and laws of the country. But based on the judgement given, one side got it very wrong. The appeal seeks to clarify the matter and to set precedence for the future.

We are a country of laws. The right to appeal a judgement is an important part of the law under which we live. Let the process continue. This matter is bigger than any one individual or group of individuals.