The government has filed an application for a stay of execution of the order handed down by the High Court in the vaccine mandate case. However, lawyer Shirlan ‘Zita’ Barnwell has indicated the intention of the claimants’ legal team to oppose that application.
The long held position of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) and the Public Service Union (PSU) that the vaccine mandate was a breach of justice concluded in victory in the High Court for the unions on Monday, March 13 when Justice Esco Henry handed down the verdict.
However, fresh concerns entered the picture with the announcement by the government that the state intended to make an application to the court to suspend the execution of the court order.
Despite the news, Barnwell said her team will take the challenge head on and oppose the stay.
“…Sometimes it’s on the face you simply say as lawyers…it’s not worth opposing the state; the court is going to give the state anyway, but certainly this isn’t one in which we believe that the stay ought to be given, so we will be opposing the stay. We are not the court, so while we will work again as hard and as fierce as we have done before…, the final decision remains the court’s decision,” Barnwell said at a press conference last Friday, March 17.
“The point of the matter is that until the court determines to accept the application, the order of the court and law remains in action,” Barnwell added.
“…So perhaps they were caught with their pants down and that’s to tell you about the arrogance of the state to think that we were so cocksure that we’re going to win this, that we made no preparations whatsoever in the event that this happens; how do we treat the workers,” she questioned.
“It is also the height of disrespect to the workers to again treat them in the matter in which they have been treated, total disrespect,” stressed Barnwell who is one of the three-member team that represented the claimants.
Barnwell further touched on the issue of the dismissed public workers being directed to report to the Attorney General’s Chambers when they attempted to return to work.
“Now, I can understand that procedurally you report to who is your immediate supervisor…[but] I have a difficulty with the AG being put in the mix because the Attorney General Chambers is the advisor for the state…what I know is that the Attorney General, or the Attorney General Chambers doesn’t have the power to fire, hire, discipline, or direct any public servant, none whatsoever.
“The Public Service Commission, the Police Service Commission, the Commissioner of Police- they have those powers as given to them and provided under the law. So, I don’t know how the Attorney General or the Attorney General Chambers got in the mix of advising our clients, or advising you the public worker of what you can and cannot do. “
The attorney also urged the teachers to know their rights and know the law otherwise there will be breaches every single day.
“This is not a case about whether or not the vaccine is effective; it is not a case of whether the vaccine is safe. This is a case of whether or not when the government made this law in the context of a pandemic, it did so in respecting the laws, respecting the rights of people, balancing the right of individuals against public interest, and also whether or not in doing so it was proportionate.”
Barnwell said that one memory from the trial that is etched in her mind is the state diminishing and devaluing the circumstances that the teachers have had to to endure after being dismissed from their jobs.
“…The state said…to us in this trial, ‘well the law says that you have to take the vaccine…they didn’t take it, they had an option. The option was you take it or you may have a medical exemption. If you applied for it and you didn’t get it, you could have a religious exemption. You applied for the religious exemption and you didn’t get it…too bad.’ Too bad was the attitude of the State…well we say too bad you lost. Too bad, too bad for you, but good for workers’ rights, good for upholding the constitution and good for the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Justice Henry, in her decision said that the Rules introduced by the government in 2021 which made it mandatory for some public servants to take a COVID-19 vaccine in order to keep their jobs were “unlawful, unconstitutional, ultra vires, disproportionate and tainted by procedural impropriety”.