Leader of the Opposition, Godwin Friday, has lauded the decision of teachers at West St. George Secondary School to stage a “sit-out” against the vaccine mandate.
Last Friday, vaccinated and unvaccinated teachers at the school wore black in protest against the mandate and all but three of them sat in the staff room for the school day, except for going to their classes to take the attendance register.
The teachers took the stance one week after a law came into effect mandating COVID-19 vaccine for teachers and a wide cross-section of public sector workers, if they are to keep their jobs.
Some 11 of the school’s 31 teachers are yet to take the jab and could lose their jobs and accrued benefits if they do not get vaccinated by the end of this week.
“I am so proud that 29 teachers at the West St. George Secondary School actually put their signature to a document that was written in opposition to the vaccine mandate,” the opposition leader said, on Monday, referring to a letter that the teachers wrote to the Chief Personnel Officer last Thursday.
“How often do you see that kind of courage? It should seem like an everyday thing that you would do. If you feel this way you should sign your name to it. But how often do you see people actually stand up and say, ‘Here I am. I am standing up’, or put your name, your signature that you can’t remove to a document that says, ‘I am opposed to this. I stand with my fellow teachers in opposition to the government’s vaccine mandate’?”
The opposition leader said that more schools should take a similar stance.
“More of the workplaces in the government should do that. It doesn’t require you coming out in the street and doing something. It requires you to simply say, ‘Yes, I agree with this thing.’ Be a part of the drafting of the letter and sign it, as they have done, and call for meetings with those persons who make those decisions in high, lofty offices, where they don’t seem to affect them personally because they don’t see, they don’t experience it in the classroom; they don’t experience it in the building, in the school, in the lunchroom; they don’t experience it when a nurse shows up to work and a colleague has to tell her to go home because they tell me that you’re not supposed to be here. Come on! This is not who we are.”
Friday and his New Democratic Party support vaccination as a means of ending the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed 74 lives in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
They, however, are opposed to mandatory vaccination, saying that the government should use education and persuasion instead.
“I hope that common sense will prevail in this matter. The government can still pull back from this draconian policy and let us work together as a people together to defeat COVID, to learn to live with it and to overcome it.
“It may take longer than we had anticipated but that is what it is. We have never been through this before. Every day we learn something new about how to combat it. I am not of the group who says it is not a problem. It is a problem but we have to deal with it together. Some people are not the problem. COVID is the problem. Some workers are not the problem; COVID is the problem. Focus on that and then say how can we all deal with it together.
Friday said he has read the teachers’ letters to the chief personnel officer and had read the stories in the media about how they have stood up.
“And I applaud them because what they are basically saying is, ‘Vaccinated or unvaccinated, the problem is not the teachers who I have been working with for the last 10 years. They are not the problem. We understand COVID is a problem. We understand that some of them are unvaccinated but this is not the way to deal with that situation. To simply throw them out of the door as if they can be discarded easily.’”
The opposition leader noted that the letter had said that most of the unvaccinated teachers lecture Form 5 students, who are preparing for their school exit examinations.
“You can’t do without those teachers. Don’t tell me that. You cannot do without those teachers. You cannot replace them with YES (Youth Empowerment Service) workers, as talented as many of those YES workers are. They simply don’t have the experience.”
He decried the notion that experienced and trained educators are dispensable and can be replaced “at the drop of a hat.
“That you could simply replace them with somebody else, without reference to their qualifications, experience and so forth, is demeaning. It says to you that your service is not really valued, you can show up today and teach and so forth and next week we can get somebody else, it doesn’t matter who. You are replaceable, you are expendable, you are disposable.
That should make the teachers feel good about what they do, the sacrifices that they make? How do we heal from this? How do we go on and say to them, ‘Never mind all of that. Continue to give the extra time that you give to your students?
“… People are people. You can’t disregard somebody belittling your competence and your contribution and your value to the institution. Disregarding that one day and then changing your mind and saying, ‘Don’t worry, we need you; you are valuable to us.’”
He said that if the government values teachers it should treat them that way.
“And that goes to all members of the public service: teachers, nurses, police officers, wherever SR&O 28 of 2021 affects all of those persons,” he said, referring to the law that brought the vaccine mandate into effect.’
“And I make the commitment, again, on behalf of the New Democratic Party to stand with them and to make sure that no jobs or benefits lost that they are not going to be victims, further victims of this COVID crisis by the way the government has implemented this mandate.”
Friday reiterated his party’s position that an NDP administration would rehire and restore the benefits of public sector workers who lose their jobs because of the vaccine mandate.
“That is the least that we can do. And it is the decent thing and that’s why we have had so much support from the wider community who may not be teachers, may not be public servants but who look at this and are saying, ‘That is wrong. You can’t treat people like that. You have to be nuts. Thank you for standing up for them, Friday. Thanks to The NDP for standing up for them.’ And we will continue to do so.’”
People who don’t wa fo tek d chook have rights to. The cabinet is condescending and authoritarian to strip away these people’s rights. Why can’t they try resolve this another way. Now we see the curtains drawn back to reveal the level of disrespect for ordinary families wha going on. Little by little we are sacrificing our democracy. I’m sure those teachers sitting there have more combined brainpower than the sitting Cabinet.
Please highlight as in a headline; any initiative of the Government that ‘The Leader of the Opposition, Godwin Friday’, has ‘lauded’. Where are the rights and wrongs of what is now today’s endemic? It would seem there is no way out politically, as “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs”. People are so busy seeking self-gratification that they have failed so badly to give the children (our future; theirs too) a second thought.
Friday need a bull pitsle whip in his rare end when he was one of the first who ran to take the shot and it came out. He is trying to antagonize Gonzales and his cabinet to have these teachers lose their jobs. When they lost their jobs I hope Friday will help them feed their children and pay their bills because of stupidity. Good luck ignorant NDP leader , your goose is cooked.
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