Teachers at West St. George Secondary School (WSGSS), today (Wednesday), responded to the call of the Teachers’ Union, and, for the second day in less than a week, sat in their staff room in protest against the government’s vaccine mandate.
The teachers’ action came on a day that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said on radio that his government will hire teachers, including retired educators, on short term contracts, to teach where current teachers refuse to go to their classes.
The WSGSS teachers are standing in solitary with their colleagues who have opted to not get vaccinated against COVID-19, as the government has mandated, if they are to continue in their post.
Unvaccinated teachers and other public sector workers for whom the jab is required but who have not obtained a medical or religious exemption, have until Friday to take the jab or be deemed to have abandoned their posts.
“The sit-in the staff room, as called for by the SVGTU (St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union), is in full effect at the school,” one source at the school told iWitness News.
“There are a few teachers who went to classes this morning. But most are in black and sitting out of the classroom — sitting in the staff room.”
The source said that as had been the case on Friday — most of the teachers went to the classrooms only to mark the attendance register and continued their sit-in until 3 p.m.
The teachers plan to continue the sit-in on Thursday.
“This is part of the continued actions among vaccinated and unvaccinated staff, who are standing in solidarity with unvaccinated teachers in accordance with SR&O 28 of 2021,” one source told iWitness News, referring to the law passed by Cabinet that brought the mandate into effect.
“The hand signs represent peace and strength standing as one,” the source said, referring to a photograph of teachers with their hands held high, one with their index and middle fingers forming a “V” and the other of a clenched fist.
In his weekly appearance on the state-owned NBC Radio, on Wednesday, Gonsalves said that he had heard about the teachers’ stance at WSGSS and the Ministry of Education was keeping him informed.
“I am asking my brothers and sisters who are teaching in West St. George, please, don’t punish the students. Don’t punish the students by going to school and not teaching the students,” the prime minister said.
“You are hurting people who don’t deserve to be hurt and you are doing so on a basis which is not rational. Please.”
He said that his government has an obligation for the safety of the students and that that obligation “is high on the totem pole”.
“I’m talking about the safety of the children,” the prime minister said, adding that another obligation on the totem pole is the education of the children.
“So if you want to go to school and stay in your staffroom, I will instruct the Ministry of Education to hire other teachers to go and teach. Indeed, I have given them instructions, if need be, not only there but anywhere else, to hire retired teachers, take them on short-term contracts.”
Gonsalves said that he would make a Cabinet decision to ensure that the retired teachers’ pensions continue even as they are awarded teaching contracts by the government.
“Everybody must understand how I think and how I am leading and how the government thinks,” the prime minister said.
“You want to go to school and stay in your staff room? I ain’t sending police to move you. I just get somebody else to teach people’s children, including, if necessary, retired teachers.
“And I will pass a Cabinet decision to have them paid whatever their numeration under the new contract — short term, whilst they still continue to get their pension for what they have served already. That is how high on the totem pole I put the children. And I do this with an open heart and with love,” the prime minister said.
“I have nothing personal against anybody who is choosing to not take the vaccine. I am talking about within the framework of the regulations. But I am urging you to take what I consider to be the rational and correct choice, take the vaccine, unless you have one of the exemptions. But if you decide that you are not taking it, well, choices have consequences,” Gonsalves said.