The Public Service Union says it is “heartless” for the Cabinet to force people to vaccinate against COVID-19 against their will.
Elroy Boucher, president of the PSU, told a St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union press conference, on Tuesday, that the vaccination numbers show that most public servants are opposed to taking the vaccine at this time.
He noted that the Cabinet has set Nov. 19 as the date by which a wide cross-section of public sector workers must vaccinate, if they do not obtain an exemption on medical or religious grounds.
“The unions have made every attempt to prevent us from getting here but to prevent us from getting here requires the overwhelming support of all our members, not just public servants, inclusive of teachers and police officers,” Boucher said.
He noted that the mandate also affects police officers, adding that as far as he knew, there are over 600 police officers who are not in support of mandatory vaccination or even not being vaccinated “at this particular juncture”.
“… when you look at the number given by the prime minister with the uptake of the vaccine, it tells us that the majority of the public service is against mandatory vaccination.
“So the minority in Cabinet has gone ahead and is now forcing the majority of public workers, including police officers, to be vaccinated or to be confronted with mandatory testing if you are not declared as part of the frontline workers.”
Boucher said that this is having a severe impact on workers’ mental health.
He said that he knows of cases in which public service officers have determined that they will be seeking early retirement and are looking to exit the public service, rather than vaccinate, against their will.
“And we are talking about, in many cases, very experienced workers and if it get to that point in St. Vincent, especially, where you realise that jobs are not in abundance as opposed to the United States, where many workers are just leaving their jobs, you know that for a worker to make such a decision here, it means that being forced to take a drug against their will is very traumatic to them.”
Boucher said that the union raised this point when they met with the Attorney General’s team.
“And we said it really is heartless for Cabinet … a group of nine men elected … to decide on the fate of thousands of workers against their will and that is quite significant and it is impactful. And this decision by the state is causing some serious issues.”
He said that nurses have been expressing how traumatic the experience is to them “and they have not taken the vaccine as yet and they are seeing the 19th [of November] as that particular day. And as each day passed by, the mental strain, the stress is enormous, as has been expressed to me by many workers,” the union leader said.
Boucher said that workers are placed in a position that one commentator calls “economic assassination”, adding that he had met with some teachers on Tuesday, who noted that they have mortgages and are breadwinners in their families.
“And they are faced with a position, after working for so many years, having to make a decision against his conscience. But in order to survive, it boils down to economic survival and you have to set aside or stifle your very conscience.
“Our people should have never been placed in such a position by any government anywhere across the world,” Boucher said, adding that in the Caribbean, it is the governments of Antigua and SVG that are behaving this way.
He said that the unions started out uniform in their decision but as is the norm, some people think that something would not affect them.
“And I think that is what has occurred. We have been preaching from day one. It is going to impact all workers within the public sector and I am sure it is going to extend to the private sector. And we keep saying we all have to stand together… Now we see they are coming for everyone and at this particular point, people are crying out, but we were there.”
Boucher said he trusts that workers and parents will pay attention, noting that the prime minister had indicated that the country would need to vaccinate 90% of its population, including children aged 12 and up.