Having been recently added to the list of “frontline workers” for whom a COVID19 vaccine is a requirement, teachers are hitting back with three suggestions that they want Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves and his Cabinet to consider prior to their return to physical classrooms.
The St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) took the decision on October 4 at a virtual meeting, to refrain from online teaching for one day this week and two next week in protest at the government’s vaccine policy.
At the meeting, which the president Oswald Robinson said was attended by 183 members of the Union, a decision was also taken to file an injunction against the government.
One day later, a letter was sent to the Prime Minister outlining some suggestions for consideration, the first being that the costs for testing to be done by teachers every two weeks be borne by the State.
“This suggestion is made in light of the fact that teachers have not received any salary increases for an extended period of time and will consider the imposition of payment for testing an additional expense which they will be unable to bear,” the letter, which is signed by SVGTU’s president, Oswald Robinson read.
The second suggestion is that “all teachers be required to present a negative PCR test upon entry to schools as the science has shown that both vaccinated and unvaccinated persons can contract and transmit the corona virus” and the third; “that the state accepts liability for any adverse reaction or death as a result of vaccination”.
It is the Union’s intention that teachers stay away from online teaching on Wednesday, October 6 and next week Monday, October 11 and Friday October 14.
Robinson, in an audio recording to teachers on October 6, said the union is committed to education and the welfare of the nation, as it has implemented several strategies throughout the pandemic to ensure that students are meaningfully engaged.
He noted that this commitment is also seen in the many donations to students and teachers during and after the eruptions of La Soufriere’s this year.
The president therefore called on teachers to unite and “stand resolute to the cause”.
“Our commitment is paramount at this time that some of our teachers are threatened with the loss of their jobs come October 15…we stand up for the rights of all. This decision is to send a clear message to the relevant authorities that we reject mandatory vaccination,” Robinson said.
He also solicited the co-operation of all members; vaccinated and unvaccinated in the “very important battle to defend our fundamental rights and freedoms”.
All workers at schools, including teachers, were recently added to the list of employees considered to be frontline workers, who will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be tested regularly at their own expense, once the Public Health (Public Bodies Special Measures) Rules come into force.
Gonsalves, who made the announcement during VC3’s Round Table Talk programme on September 29, said that before the Rules become effective, teachers had a choice of “whether to take the vaccine and be at work within that period, or you get a different job; and you would not be able to come to work in these frontline jobs, unless you take the vaccine. You would have made a choice”.
When news broke this week of the union’s intention for teachers to refrain from online schooling for one day this week and two next week, the prime minister made an appeal for teachers to forgo that decision and continue delivering classes to students.
And, while speaking on NBC radio on Wednesday morning September 6, questioned the union’s reasoning for refraining from online teaching.
“You want to punish the students? You want to hold the country to ransom?…What is so difficult about taking the vaccine? Teachers are, in fact, frontline workers. We were seeking to see whether something could be done there but the demand coming from the teachers who are vaccinated and other teachers too and parents and what’s happening in other parts of the world, progressive countries, the teachers are vaccinated,” he said, adding that he was hoping teachers would voluntarily take the COVID-19 vaccine.
While he did not giving exact numbers, the prime minister said figures show that less than one third of teachers are vaccinated.
He compared this to neighbouring Barbados, where more than 80 per cent of teachers there have been vaccinated.
“Now, if you have that number, you may not in those circumstances say that you should give the choice of either you vaccinate or find another job because of the large number of the teachers who have gone and taken the vaccine,” Gonsalves said. “Please, take this vaccine na — for yourself, for your children’s sake, your students. You can’t abandon your students at a time like this.
You can’t compromise their safety, you can’t compromise their education.”
The prime minister added: “I don’t know what could get in the heads of persons who are responsible to come to such kinds of conclusions.
What you want to do? Is this politics? Is this just vanity? What is it? Because it just doesn’t have any rational basis.”
“Teachers are not doing ‘a favour’. It’s not voluntary work. People are paid for doing this job. Come on please, take the vaccine, teachers. I understand that more and more people are taking it. Let’s not get there and wait until the regulations come into force. Let’s get…vaccinated,” he said.
The membership of the SVGTU is expected to reconvene before October 18 to strategise on the way forward.