Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves is making it clear that he never said that his government is considering re-hiring unvaccinated teachers.
“I didn’t say that teachers are going to come back without taking the vaccine. I still urge the teachers to take the vaccine because it is the safest way to protect yourself and protect other persons,” he said on his party’s radio station on Tuesday.
“Didn’t you just hear the clarity with which I spoke for persons to hear the use of the word ‘may’, the use of the word ‘considerations’ upon advice and persons may express their wish to be re-employed?” the prime minister said.
He further said that while the government may give consideration to re-hiring the teachers, this is different from reinstating them.
“And I never opened my mouth and talk about reinstating teachers. I say consideration may be given for the re-employment of teachers. I didn’t say reinstating because as far as the government is concerned, the teachers who chose not to comply with the law and regulations made their choice,” he said on Star FM.
He said that if any teacher is re-employed, “I will ensure that their previous service will be added to this additional service for their retirement benefits…
“And at the end of the day, the CMO and the medical authorities are vital in this regard with their advice. The final determination on broad policy will come from the government but the application of the law — I don’t hire teachers; that’s the public service commission.”
Gonsalves accused president of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union, Oswald Robinson, of misrepresenting a conversation that they had on the issue on July 5.
Speaking on WE FM on Sunday, Gonsalves said the COVID-19 infection numbers this week — one week after the end of Vincymas 2022 ended — could influence the government’s decision on whether to rehire teachers who were fired last December for not taking a COVID-19 vaccine.
He seemed to have anticipated comments about the law requiring teachers to be vaccinated to enter classrooms, even as Vincentians, regardless of their vaccination status, partied together for the first carnival since the pandemic struck in 2020.
Later on Sunday, Robinson, speaking on his union’s programme on Xtreme FM, said that he had anticipated the prime minister’s comments, in light of a conversation they had on July 7.
Gonsalves said it was he who raised with Robinson the issue of re-hiring teachers, adding that they had “a good and friendly discussion” on this at an event, in Villa, to mark the United States 246th anniversary of independence.
He said he had spoken publicly before about the possible re-hiring of unvaccinated teachers.
“I’m not going to rebut the inaccuracies spoken by the president of the Teachers’ Union. I would just say the following thing. The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is fully satisfied that it acted reasonably and within the framework of the law and the Constitution in ensuring that there was a requirement for some frontline workers, quote unquote frontline workers, among whom were teachers to take the vaccine; ninety-odd per cent of the teachers took the vaccine; some chose not to take the vaccine.”
He noted that the union challenged the government’s decision in the court, adding, “and the matter is winding its way through the courts … to a particular conclusion sometime in the next couple of months– I don’t know.”
He, however, said he had raised with the chief medical officer before carnival the possibility of re-hiring unvaccinated teachers.
“I said, ‘CMO, as always, what do you advise?’ We must look at the epidemiological condition, the kind of spread that we have, any spike in relation to COVID, the hospitalisation, infections, deaths…” Gonsalves said.
“And I said we will get a practical demonstration as to the extent of the optic within the relevant incubation period,” he said, noting that Tuesday was seven days after Vincymas ended.
“We will see, over the next couple of days, the 10, the 12, whatever they consider the period of incubation and the manifestation, whether we are having an extensive uptick as a consequence of the carnival or not and the seriousness of that infection and the uptick and deaths and the like,” the prime minister said.
He said that he had raised with the CMO for her to bear in mind for advice on whether the government “can make an amendment to the regime which is in law or whatever we can do administratively in relation to, say the teachers, the nurses, as to whether we would continue to require that as a condition, the taking of the vaccine for employment in the teaching profession.
“And that depending on her determination, we may give consideration to the re-employment of teachers who may wish to return to the teaching profession and that they may return on whatever conditions the chief medical officer advises in relation to the protection of other teachers in the staff room and the children.
“The CMO may say well, ‘You can re-employ them but they must take the vaccine or you may re-employ them but our advice is that they take tests at particular intervals; that they wear masks. I don’t know what the advice would be. I said that there would be consideration.”
Gonsalves said he had spoken publicly about the issue before he discussed it with Robinson and even after he did.
“Oh, they’re putting me under pressure; it burning me; my conscience, all this ridiculous nonsense,” the prime minister said, referring to some of the claims that Robinson made in his statement.
“I don’t feel any pressure. They didn’t try their best to even buss me head? I’m not saying that any other teachers did it, or any public servants or anybody,” he said, referring to the Aug. 5 protest last year in which he was struck in his head.
“But I know I got my head buss in a protest in which the NDP called and the union’s leadership or sections of them supported it, that day, Aug. 5 last year, when I get me head buss.”
He said that his injury was “not a trivial thing for me.
“So way you going do me next, worse than that? I act reasonably all the time, because that is my nature. That is why I’ve been given five terms in office thus far. And that’s why the people of this country ignored [Elroy] Boucher, and ignored Robinson in 2015 and 2020, when they urge their members and other people to vote NDP,” he said, referring to the heads of the Public Service Union and the Teachers’ Union.