General Secretary of the National Workers Movement (NWM) Noel Jackson is of the view that while persons have the right to protest if they feel wronged, they must not do it in a way that they become “wild cats”.
Jackson made the comment on Wednesday as a guest on OMG in the Morning, a radio programme hosted by Dwight “Bing” Joseph on BOOM FM 106.9.
He was making reference to protests here this week involving dozens of persons who lined the space at the front of the Financial Complex on Bay Street on Monday, and the precincts of the House of Assembly on Tuesday as a show of displeasure with the Government’s response to the High Court’s ruling on the vaccine mandate case.
Protesters, comprising teachers, nurses, former police officers and politicians, among others, are upset over the government’s decision to apply for a stay of execution of the order of the High Court which said that the public servants who had been fired under the Public Health (Public Bodies Special Measures) Rules 2021 (SR&O No 28) were illegally dismissed and had never ceased to hold their jobs.
The court order states that the public servants are therefore entitled to all salaries, pensions and other entitlements from the day they ceased to work. They are also entitled to damages and costs, according to the order which was issued on March 13, 2023.
After the ruling, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU), headed by Oswald Robinson, called on dismissed teachers to report to work. The call was supported by the Public Service Union (PSU).
Jackson said the goal of government is to represent and protect people, and the constitution gives the government leverage in situations of public health emergencies.
He said legislation was passed based on that particular authority provided by the constitution, and in that process people made their choices.
“Some people decided to take the vaccine as has been done in a lot of other countries, and some persons decided they were not taking the vaccine.
“And some of the persons who decided they are not taking the vaccine ended up outside the workplace for fear they would contaminate the rest of the staff based on the fact they would not have been vaccinated. It was a protective measure,” Jackson commented.
He said that some persons choose not take the vaccine and the regulation (SR&O No 28), provided the authority to the government to dismiss such persons.
“The thing is, persons have the right to choose, that is the democracy we live in, but I will tell you something… that I have learned, there is a consequence for everything you do, whether it is negative or positive,” Jackson said.
“In my opinion, the union has the right to represent their members and if their membership demand that they, the union, take the government to court that is what they have to do. As a trade unionist I know that,” Jackson said live on air.
He added that although the union has to listen to the members, this is a complex issue.
“The thing is though…you take the government to court and you won, but the government signalled that they are going to appeal, and of course they have appealed, and there was an order for persons to return to work by the union. Yes, you have the right based on the ruling of Judge Henry to mobilize your members, those that were affected, and arrive at a position.
“For me what I would have done is to write to the employer and indicate to the employer that those members of the union who were affected by the vaccine mandate, I expect them to return to work based on the ruling of Judge Henry and that we are giving you a deadline as to when they are going to return to work,” Jackson said.
The trade unionist, with over 42 years experience in Industrial Relations, said to his knowledge, that is how you set up industrial relations.
“It’s not supposed to be confrontational. I think the unions made an error by issuing the statement to those who have a claim to return to work,” Jackson noted.
He said that if he was able to, he would have persuaded the unions to take a position that would avoid chaos and confusion.
“…because if I took a private sector company to court and got a ruling in my favour and it is handed down, I cannot say to members, ‘just report to work’…I am basically against that,” Jackson said.
“I would have written to the employer giving them a deadline as to when workers would be returning to work so you can prepare for them,” he added while noting that the employer,in the absence of the dismissed workers, would have reorganized the business.
“…and what would happen if I just send my workers inside?…when you do that, you create chaos and I think that is where the mistake was made.”
He stressed the need to not have an adversarial relationship between employer and employee, as he has been taught.
“We are at a stage now where industrial relations changed. The world has changed and if we are not prepared to change or to adjust or to adapt, we are going to become dinosaurs,” Jackson said.
He added that while some persons may not respect his opinions on issues on which he may comment, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and you have to respect that position.
As head of the NWM, Jackson said he has a diverse membership to represent and he is of the opinion that the PSU and SVGTU are competent to represent their members.
Jackson, however, noted that if he had his way, the National Labour Congress would be the umbrella body for industrial relations, standing at the front for all the unions.
“We need to get that going and get that organisation active in the life of the workers and the unions,” Jackson said while noting that heading up a trade union movement is a sacrifice that most times nobody wants to make.
“The same people you fighting for, are sometimes the same people who are constantly pounding you down and beating you down.
“It is the right of the unions to protest if they feel they are being wronged and if they feel they have a point and case, but I don’t want it to take on a profile that you dislocate and create problems and become wild cats,” Jackson stressed. He added that on the occasions when the NWM was striking it was for the right to belong to a trade union of their choice, not create problems.
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