A handful of unvaccinated permanent sanitation workers were allowed to return to work this month, after being off the job for three months as a result of the government’s COVID-19 vaccine policy.
The government implemented its COVID-19 vaccine policy last November, which saw a number of certain public workers being out of jobs due to their unwillingness to take a vaccine to maintain their respective positions.
These workers included at least five permanent sanitation workers but a memo made public this week indicated that these workers would be allowed to return to work without the vaccine.
“Based on instructions given to the Ministry, please be advised that all permanent sanitation workers, who are presently off the job, having not taken the COVID19 vaccine, and are willing to return for work, shall be allowed to do so without the vaccine,” stated the memo which was signed by permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health, Cuthbert Knights and addressed to the chief environmental health officer.
Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves speaking briefly on the matter during his appearance on NBC Radio on Wednesday, arch 9 said officials realised “somewhere along the line” that some unvaccinated workers were let go, despite not being in accordance with the regulations outlined in the SR&O that brought the vaccine policy into force.
He also said that when the matter was “brought to the attention of the political directorate, we say well, just check the rules”.
The prime minister added that “those workers — not a significant number of them — basically will get paid for what was an enforced holiday…”
Minister of Health, St Clair Prince, according to a report on SVGTV this week, also explained that what transpired was “an administrative error” and that those affected would be compensated.
Though the memo was dated February 23, 2022, SEARCHLIGHT understands that the “error” was picked up by the relevant officials in December 2021.
The permanent sanitation workers were not reinstated until this month, March 2022.
Sanitation workers are represented by the Commercial, Technical and Allied Workers Union (CTAWU).
SEARCHLIGHT made attempts to speak with the union’s General Secretary, Joseph ‘Burns’ Bonadie but calls were unanswered up to press time.
Other unions: the SVG Teachers Union and Public Service Union, as well as the Police Welfare Association have joined together to put the government’s vaccine policy to task in the court system, in response to the many members who are now without a job.
And PSU president, Elroy Boucher said he believes that the recent reinstatement of unvaccinated permanent sanitation workers has potential to strengthen the case of the unions.
“The substantive issues in the case, the judge has agreed that it can move forward and we have always said that the court is going to find what the minister has done is an overreach and that the dismissal of these workers is illegal,” he said.
“This action by the ministry of health can in my view, strengthen that point because here you are, you are recalling workers that have been dismissed; in other words, there wasn’t a need to dismiss them.”
Boucher noted that some have said that sanitation workers could not have been included among workers required to take the COVID19 jab because they work alone.
And he said there are other workers who have been dismissed who also work alone in other areas of the public service.
The union leader described the government’s vaccine policy as being an “historical wrong” that should be corrected, while expressing the belief that the workers affected “are going to be vindicated in the court and the court is going to rule that what has happened to them is illegal”.
Boucher also said that the CTAWU’s General Secretary should listen to his “trade union conscience” and act on behalf of the workers represented by his union so as to obtain compensation for workers, separate from what they are owed for the time spent at home.