The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and the major trade unions representing public sector workers may be heading for a confrontation over vaccination against COVID-19.
The Public Service Union, Teachers’ Union and Police Welfare Association have written to the government asking for an urgent meeting before Friday, April 2, to discuss the policy that says government workers who have not taken a COVID-19 jab must be tested as regularly as every two weeks.
“… public servants may consent to testing; however, they ought not to be subjected to any frequency that is not demanded from the wider population or any other special group. Further, the either-or approach has a punitive element attached,” the unions said in a joint press release.
On Wednesday, iWitness News obtained a copy of a Cabinet memo, which indicated that Cabinet had decided, on March 24, that all government employees who have not taken the COVID-19 jab are required to be tested regularly for the novel coronavirus.
The test could be conducted up to once every two weeks, “based on risk levels and determined by the health authorities”, Cabinet Secretary Kattian Barnwell-Scott said in the memo.
The communique, which had as its subject “POLICY ON VACCINATION AND TESTING OF PUBLIC SECTOR WORKERS” was addressed to the attorney general, director-general of finance and planning, chief personnel officer, and the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health.
Barnwell-Scott said that public sector workers who have received their first and/or second dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine are to submit copies of their vaccination records to their respective ministries, departments, or agencies by April 7.
She said that the attorney general was requested to advise “on the legal implications with respect to non-compliance with this policy.
“The Cabinet Secretary was also instructed to convene a meeting with all permanent secretaries and heads of department to communicate the decision of the Cabinet,’ the memo said.
The memo became public hours after the union issued a joint statement “in response to the government’s new position that public officers must either vaccinate or be subjected to COVID-19 testing every two weeks, and failure to comply with either offering will result in disciplinary proceedings”.
The unions said the current scientific knowledge is that none of the vaccines can definitively prevent anyone from getting or spreading COVID-19.
“State authorities say that the vaccine is not mandatory, but their approach appears to give our members little or no choice. Its message is take the vaccine or else we will punish you,” the joint statement continued.
It said that according to the latest figures, SVG has recorded 1,739 COVID-19 cases with over 1,500 persons having recovered after experiencing mild or no symptoms.
“They required no medical intervention to recover. This reality begs the question: how is the vaccine assisting persons whose immune system does and can do what the vaccine purported to do?” the union said.
Ten persons in SVG have died of COVID-19 since the country recorded its first case on March 11, 2020.
The unions said that they are cognisant of the fact that COVID-19 has become a public health threat “and that the world is craving to get back to some sort of normalcy with the roll out of the vaccination programmes.
“However, the manner in which the government has been rolling out its vaccination program is very troubling and amounts to an attempt to assassinate established inalienable human and constitutional rights,” the unions said.
The statement said that the unions do not intend to have any conflict with the government.
“We have an obligation to address the concerns of all members and, in particular, any apparent assault of their rights. After intense deliberations, the unions stand resolute that the government’s position is unreasonable, arbitrary and an infringement on the rights of public servants.
“For the record, categorically, we are not against vaccination and testing. As a matter of fact, we have advised our members to exercise their constitutional right to conscience, belief and thought. Furthermore, where there is any doubt they must use objective information to inform their consent or rejection of vaccination and or testing.”
Meanwhile, head of the Teachers’ Union Oswald Robinson did not comment on the memo when iWitness News contacted him Wednesday evening.
He said he had just seen the document and did not want to comment as yet as the unions were planning to call an “urgent press conference” if the meeting proposed for Friday does not take place.
In the joint statement, the unions said that they are not opposed to vaccination and have encouraged their members who have so decided, to take the jab.
They, however, expressed concern about the manner in which the government was going about the programme.
Last week, Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday restated his New Democratic Party’s support for vaccination as a means of containing the COVID-19 pandemic, but says that citizens should not be pressured or enticed into taking the jab.
Friday, who has taken the jab, told a press conference that he has been consistent in his support for vaccination, and took the jab because he believes it is safe and necessary “to get back to our lives”.
“But nobody should threaten anybody and make them feel that somehow their fears … are not worth exploring,” the opposition leader said.
“You know that I feel it is best for there to be widespread vaccination. But people need sound information that takes their concerns and fears into account and addresses them,” he said.