The government’s vaccine policy for certain public workers was not set up to benefit those who would have sought and successfully been granted exemptions from taking a COVID-19 jab.
This is the view expressed by Andrew John, the Industrial Relations Officer (IRO) of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers union (SVGTU), at a press conference this week to highlight the plight of teachers who have been left unemployed due to their failure to comply with SR&O No 28 of 2021 and be vaccinated against COVID-19.
According to John, several teachers who were previously granted religious exemptions were informed by letter last week that there were no other places in the system where they could be accommodated without being vaccinated.
John also alleged that these teachers were told that a COVID jab is not mandatory, but rather a requirement for remaining in the service and that it should be administered by January 31 to maintain their posts.
“What this automatically means — this is on religious grounds we are talking about here — if they do not comply by the 31st, it means you would receive a second letter, which is the one the other teachers would’ve received in December, meaning that they would automatically lose their job,” the union’s IRO said.
“This should’ve been thought out and considered before — how can you tell people, you fundamentally agreed with them that they are entitled to an exemption. You have said yes, you did receive this exemption but no place can be found for you and so you will have to find another job.”
Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves said in December 2021 that 17 teachers from four particular religious denominations: Life by Faith Ministries; the Nyabinghi Order; Thusia Seventh Day Adventists; and the Assemblies of Yahweh had been granted religious exemptions and that the Ministry of Education was seeking to see whether they could be accommodated elsewhere.
Additionally, educators who sought and were granted medical exemptions, received it on a varying, temporary basis, depending on one’s situation.
“…It appears that the system was not really set up to give anybody any exemptions because the few persons who you could count on one hand who might’ve… received a medical exemption, would’ve been on a temporary basis,” John said on Tuesday, during a joint press conference between the SVGTU and Public Service Union (PSU).
All schools in SVG reopened in a full face-to-face format on January 3.
But the Industrial Relations Officer declared that the school system is “barely functioning” as a result of the government’s vaccine policy.
He added that the situation will likely result in difficulties preparing students adequately for the upcoming examination cycle.
“…This is a situation where no unvaccinated teacher is on the compound…this whole mandatory vaccination thing was to make the work environment safe and we were assured that as long as there were no unvaccinated teachers within the system, that the workplace would be safe. What we are seeing in reality is far, far from that. Also, what we are seeing is a shortage. We have created a shortage of teachers from tertiary level, right down to the primary level,” he said.
This is the second month that teachers, along with several other categories of public workers, will not receive a salary due to their non-compliance with the government’s vaccine policy.
Local public sector unions, the PSU and SVGTU, alongside the Police Welfare Association have set out to test this policy in court through the filing of a judicial review and constitutional motion.
A hearing is expected to take place on February 9.