The law dictating mandatory vaccination for some categories of public sector workers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines may be tested in court soon.
The Public Service Union said, on Tuesday, that it has instructed its lawyer to sue the government over the matter.
The union’s president, Elroy Boucher, acknowledged that even as the membership of the union voted for a four-day strike this week, individual members might be afraid that they could lose their job if they take part in the industrial action.
“The union is not addressing in this manner purely from an industrial action standpoint. The union has also instructed its lawyers to take legal action. This is not a one strategy,” Boucher told a joint press conference of the PSU, the Teachers’ Union, and Rise Hairouna, on Tuesday.
He noted that in Guyana, the trade unions filed a case against the statutory rules and order (SR&O) that the government passed in that country.
“I very much expect here in St. Vincent for us to do the same… So we have the nurses and the rest of the public service covered; whatever is necessary for us to safeguard their jobs, we will so do.”
Boucher said that under the proposed SR&O in SVG, it is ironic that a worker for whom vaccination is required would not be dismissed for not being vaccinated, but for breaking the rules by going to their workplace while being unvaccinated.
“And that I find rather interesting. So you turn up for your job and they are locking you out. You enter the compound, they say illegally, and you are actually charged for misconduct for entering the compound illegally.”
Boucher said that the government is hoping that 10 days will pass with the worker being off the job.
“… the Public Service regulation states [that] if 10 days pass and you haven’t turned up for your job you have abandoned your job…
“But are you really absent? And that is something for the lawyers to really deal with. Are you really absent if you have been going to work?”
“… one of the questions that I asked earlier is whether we needed something to trigger legal action. That is, I was of the view and still of the view that the amendments should have been challenged as being unconstitutional.
“But the lawyers, of course, given the fact that that is their area of expertise, can best strategize how they go about that. That is for them to advise us on.
“But it is expected that some sort of challenge will be made, whether it is to the SR&O in the event that they become the subsidiary law that the government is intended for them to become, or the amendments themselves. We expect that to be done.
Meanwhile, speaking at Tuesday’s press conference, Jomo Thomas of Jomo Thomas Chambers, the legal representatives of the PSU and Teachers’ Union, said that he believes that the government has a case to answer regarding its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“My own view, and I have articulated this before, is that, at least procedurally, our government has gone about what it is doing in an improper fashion,” Thomas said.
He noted that the government speaking about having declared a public health emergency in March 2020.
“And I have asked the attorney general for that SR&O — I think it is 18 of 2020 — because I want to see what it’s grounded in. Because I don’t get an impression that it is grounded in the constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Thomas said that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves “talks around these questions — we have statutory and constitutional authority, but the constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which is the highest law of the land”.
Thomas noted that section 17 (2) (b) of the Constitution offers emergency powers to the government “as a result of the occurrence of any volcanic eruption, earthquake, hurricane, flood, fire, outbreak of pestilence or of infectious disease, or other calamity whether similar to the foregoing or not …”
“As far as I am aware, the government has not invoked that constitutional section and consequently, I am pretty convinced that there is a strong argument to be made that procedurally they have not done what they needed to do and, consequently, that what they are doing is unconstitutional.
“But, that is a question that we are working through and, certainly, a claim will eventually be brought to the court and the judges here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines will make a decision as to whether the government is doing what it is doing properly.
“But those are just preliminary opinions from having looked at what they have done and having looked at the cases, the plethora of cases across the region and further afield and coming to a conclusion which may well prove to be correct. I don’t say what I say without giving some serious thought to it.”