Local public sector unions are appealing to Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves to ‘have a heart’ and reinstate unvaccinated workers, even as the ball is already rolling to test the government’s COVID-19 vaccine policy in court.
The end of this month marks two cycles in which certain categories of workers who refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19, as required under the SR&O 28, Public Health (Public Bodies Special Measures) Rules 2021, have been out of a job.
And the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU), held a press conference this week alongside the Public Service Union (PSU), to once again echo the plight of workers at home who again will receive no salary at the end of January.
President of the PSU, Elroy Boucher said his union wrote the prime minister this week, where it was highlighted that “this vaccine mandate and the dismissal of workers is a historical wrong and as such, that it ought to be repealed”.
The union leader also said the rule ought to be revoked “on the simple basis that the objectives of the SR&O is to prevent the transmission and keep the workers safe, cannot be met, given what is happening across the globe, particularly with Omicron”.
Making a case for the revocation of the vaccine policy, Boucher referenced recent comments made by Chief Medical Officer, Dr Simone Keizer-Beache who said that between December 29 and January 11, at least 44 per cent of recorded positive cases via PCR were in vaccinated individuals.
“It begs the question, why employ this draconian measure in firing workers for not taking something that is not going to ensure the workplace is safe. We all know, to maintain a safe workplace, the best practice, the best protocol is testing because you ensure that nobody positive enters the workplace,” he said.
Both the PSU and SVGTU, alongside the Police Welfare Association have joined together in filing a constitutional motion and judicial review in relation to the SR&O that came into effect in November 2021.
A hearing is expected to take place on February 9.
And while Boucher is confident that the unions will be successful in their challenge, he said it doesn’t have to be a matter in which the court decides.
“It’s a frightening position for our leader to find himself in…the majority of Vincentians know that that was a mistake made by the government . And it just needs one to swallow one’s pride, admit it was a mistake, correct the wrong and reinstate all public servants to their respective posts with their full benefits intact,” he said.
Boucher continued: “It’s not rocket science. It just requires a human heart to understand this. The leadership — that’s what we want from our leader, any leader of a country, we want them to have a human heart.
“If this case of mandatory vaccination was able to achieve what it was meant to achieve in terms of science, you may have heard a different conversation we’re having here but clearly, it is not achieving that and clearly, the government [has] made a mistake.”
Former president of the SVGTU, Otto Sam, now a religious minister was also present at Tuesday’s press conference, where he joined in the appeal to the government to repeal the SR&O and reinstate unvaccinated teachers who are now unemployed.
Like Boucher, Sam also holds the view that “everyone knows this was an error”, describing it as unreasonable and unfair.
He noted that many teachers showed their solidarity with the government in times of disaster with the dengue fever and COVID-19 outbreaks, and again when La Soufriere erupted last year, displacing thousands and activating shelters at schools across the country.
“It’s inhumane, it’s unreasonable so forget the science and the data…just the fact that these people held up the hands of the prime minister and the government in a time of crisis, in a moment of crises really, it’s just a common understanding that this government should have a heart for these various people,” Sam said.
The former SVGTU president proffered that current data on the pandemic does not support the government’s position and that the reality in this country demonstrates that “vaccination is not salvation from this situation. It’s not a panacea. You’re not going to vaccinate your way out of it with vaccination only”.
He said persons should not demonise the government for its decision but pointed that children are unable to go to school and homes are being earmarked to be sold by financial institutions because affected workers have missed two salary payments so far.
“Even if the court is an option, the reality is — and the court is a viable option and the workers will win — when they win, the damage might’ve already been done. I believe that the prime minister still has it within him to address the issue…” he said.