As the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union calls on its members to strike today (Tuesday) and Wednesday to show opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves is accusing the union of using students as a “battering ram” against the government.
On Sunday, the union called on its members, vaccinated and unvaccinated, to attend physical and online classes on Monday and to stay away from the all face-to-face and online classes on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The union further advised teachers to continue with all normal work on Thursday and to picket at the Vegetable Market in Kingstown and Union Island, and the administrative building in Canouan and Bequia on Friday from 9:30 a.m.
“All COVID-19 protocols will be strictly enforced at the picket line,” the union said.
“The SVGTU strongly advises all of its unvaccinated members to continue to report to work and to keep photographic records as evidence of your presence. If you are issued any formal communication concerning your employment status, submit a copy to the office of the SVGTU immediately.
“The SVGTU is kindly calling on all parents to keep their children at home on Tuesday 7th and Wednesday 8th and to join in solidarity with the SVGTU on the picket line on Friday 10th December, 2021. We will further advise all of our members as we intensify our plan of actions.,” the union said.
The call to industrial action comes as the government’s COVID-19 mandate, came into effect on Nov. 19.
As of last Friday, public sector workers who are yet to take the jab even as they have not received an exemption on religious or medical grounds, are considered to have abandoned their jobs.
However, speaking on WE FM, on Sunday, the prime minister said he wanted “to assure” parents that all schools, primary and secondary, the Community College, as well as early learning centres that the government has set up will operate as normal.
“And this thing about asking parents not to send their children to school, I mean, that’s a non-starter,” Gonsalves said on Issue At Hand.
“I just want to tell the parents, look, the teachers can’t have it every which way. I am talking about those teachers who have decided not to take the vaccine,” Gonsalves said.
“We can’t have a set of persons who want to act outside of the framework of what a duly elected government, acting on behalf of the people, that what is being done and decide that you’re going to seek to disrupt education of the children.
“That’s not gonna happen. That’s not gonna be permitted. And it is entirely unreasonable and unacceptable for any teacher who is vaccinated to say that they are going to sit out or sit in, or whatever. You don’t work with yourself. You are not doing a favour for gratis.”
Gonsalves said that the people of SVG are “in solidarity’ with teacher “by paying you for working, by giving you many, many benefits.
“Look, in the educational system, what do we have? We have a partnership between the state, the government, the parents, the community, the teachers and the students and everybody operating under the suzerainty of Almighty God.”
He said that teachers who “want to be unreasonable cannot hold that partnership to ransom”.
He said the issue of COVID-19 vaccination has been under discussion for a very long time, noting that the draft regulations were published in mid-July and announced in mid-October.
And even after the regulations were made, they did not come into being for another month, Gonsalves said, adding that written into the regulations was the provision from the public service regulations that give a 10-day grace period.
It is perfectly legal in the case of a pandemic to require that people be vaccinated, Gonsalves said, adding that “for over 100 years courts have ruled across the world that requiring vaccination to do a job is perfectly constitutional and perfectly legal”.
He spoke about the number of COVID-19 deaths in SVG since March — 64, taking the total to 76 — and the fact that there is the Omicron variant.