The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union says it has not filed any legal challenge to the vaccine mandate but is ready to do so immediately if the government gives dismissal letters to unvaccinated educators.
“… if you look at the threats that were being made all along, you were telling us that separation day is the 19th [of November] — the deadline was the 19th and then you had 10 days, [after] which you [it] would be deemed to have abandoned your job.
“So we were expecting after that, then the next step would have been for them to fire the teachers,” Andrew John, industrial relations and research officer (IRRO) at the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union told the media on Wednesday.
He, however, noted that this has not happened, but rather, the government has been saying that teachers should not go onto school campuses unless they are vaccinated.
“And we’re saying the proceedings, a large part of it would be on the firing of teachers. Because definitely, you have to protect the jobs of teachers, you have to protect teachers’ rights, and firing on some trumped up charge would fly in the face of the collective agreement that we have. It will fly in the face of the Public Service Orders and all of that,” John said.
According to a law passed by Cabinet that came into effect on Nov. 19, “frontline” workers had a 10-day grade period in which to take at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine if they did not receive a religious or medical exemption.
At the end of the 10-day period — calendar days for some workers and work days for others — they would be considered as having resigned from their jobs.
This week, a number of police officers received letters saying that they had resigned their jobs, having not taken the jab.
However, John told the press conference that his union maintains that the government cannot just fire a teacher without a hearing.
“Those things have been thrown out and replaced, it seems, by just the SR&O (vaccine mandate law) and that bill that was passed (amended Public Health Act),” John said.
“So what are we saying? That we don’t have any rights? After you bring that in, our rights disappeared? So you could take all my benefits?”
He said that the union had received, on Friday, a dismissal letter given to a teacher at a private school.
“But in terms of the government workers, workers have not received a dismissal letter. So we …have to proceed with caution. We must wait on the incident to occur before we file.”
Commenting on the issue, Oswald Robinson, the union’s president, said that when firing people, “the language must be precise and clear…
“You have to state that your services are no longer required, with effect from which day and you must say why. That is what they’re not doing.
“Because all these little pieces of instrument (circulars) they’re sending, there is a constitutional requirement. There’s the civil service regulations, which people have been trying to tamper with. And remember, the civil service regulations are enshrined in the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Robinson said.
“There’s a procedure. If I tell you your services are terminated from which date, then it is your right to have that in writing; you should have it in writing. You can’t take word of mouth when it comes to especially professionals. Put it in writing. And then there’s a procedure. There must be a hearing. There must be need for an appeal. Because due process must be followed.”
He said this is where a legal person would come into play.
“Because you have a right to an attorney; that is a constitutional right. You have a right to a fair hearing, due process… Because you could go before a tribunal and say you are not saying anything until your legal person comes, just like if you’re arrested. People need to know these things.”
He said that the government’s back is against the wall and that is why “every weekend, you’re getting a new memo coming to school; all kinds of crap.
“You can’t tell somebody who you have not given them a letter of dismissal, where the permanent secretary is saying … if you’re unvaccinated and you enter the school compound that is unlawful. Which law is he quoting? Does he have that authority to tell people that they are fired?”
The union leader maintained that in the absence of dismissal letters he would tell teachers to go to work.
“You must write the individual teacher and say your services are no longer required and state the reason because you’re a bunch of cowards….
“This is serious business, you can’t have people’s jobs at stake. You’re violating people’s conscience, the right to choose and expect that the teachers’ union would sit back and folding their arms and play dead? That is not going to happen!”
Robinson said that cases have been submitted to the union’s legal counsel “who have already prepared to advance this matter in court.
“And as soon as that is done, we will have a briefing where we’ll have the press again to hear from the lawyers themselves in terms of that aspect of the battle.”
Robinsonsaid he had heard “the government’s lawyer” on TV sounding “very scared, confused and drifting, throwing out a sprat to a whale”, saying that he was awaiting any suits against the government over the vaccine mandate as the claimant would lose.
“… we are not going to say in the general public what type of legal action we are going to take,” Robinson said, adding that this was part of the union’s strategy.
“You will hear that from the counsel at the appropriate time, but what I know for a fact is that instruments have been prepared and they will be filed in the court soon — very soon.
“You know, you have to cross your t’s and dot your i’s and make sure everything is intact because we have to do it properly. And we have to do it with that power so that the government team will have to come good and come strong to be able to to win us.”
He said that the union has prevailed against the government twice in the courts and will do so again on the vaccine mandate matter.
“That school that fired the teacher, we will also take up that matter. So that school, we want you to prepare yourself for the legal battle also,” Robinson said.