By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Aug. 5, 2022)
Any objective look at our post-independence history will record PM Gonsalves as the most anti-union, vindictive and oppressive leader since Robert Milton Cato. No other leader has tried to bend the citizens’ will as Gonsalves.
None has been as spiteful, angry, crass and disruptive of the lives of Vincentians as our current prime minister.
Gonsalves’ announcement of the new COVID-19 policy relating to unvaccinated dismissed teachers would be laughable if they were not so deadly serious. Responding to the collapse of his COVID policies, which saw him dismiss or caused to be dismissed hundreds of workers in the public and private sector, Gonsalves laid down new conditions for the possible rehiring of the dismissed teachers.
“I want to make it plain that this is not reinstatement of teachers. This is not a question of an automatic reinstatement of teachers because to say it is an automatic reinstatement of teachers would be to suggest that the teachers were not legally, constitutionally out of their jobs because they did not choose to take the vaccine and follow the requirement…
“And clearly, they expressed an interest in employment as teachers. Those who had not followed the requirement and, therefore, had abandoned their jobs under the law, they would be required to follow the conditions, including periodic testing,” Gonsalves said.
Even though science has proven Gonsalves wrong, his pride cannot allow him to concede and reinstate all the public employees he so callously and illegally dismissed. As Justice Peter Jamadar of the Caribbean Court of Justice has said, “… there is rule by law and the rule of law”.
Yes, there is a law, SR&O No. 28 of 2021. But that law is not written in stone. The regime of Milton Cato passed draconian legislation to curtail trade union activity and assault the right to free expression and association in 1981. When the people rose up in righteous indignation in what history recorded as the “kill the bills struggle”, PM Cato shelved the bills. The bills died a natural death. Gonsalves knows this history. He was involved in this struggle to save our democracy. So why is Gonsalves being so pigheaded?
All of the evidence is now in. There are no ifs, ands, or buts. Vaccination does not prevent anyone from contracting or spreading the COVID-19 virus. In fact, a body of evidence shows that vaccinated people have a higher viral load and are far more likely to contract and spread the virus. Evidence from Canada, Israel and the UK offer irrefutable proof that vaccinated and boosted persons are more likely to be hospitalised and die from COVID. Yet, this devil of a man puts conditions on the reinstatement of our long-suffering workers. After all, both PM Gonsalves and President Biden, two of the most medicated leaders on planet earth, have recently contracted the virus.
The cynical actions of our prime minister are further exposed as his new policy of testing, masking, and social distancing comes less than a month after the government allowed for a full-blown carnival celebration under the festive theme “tings nice agen”. Thousands of Vincentians paraded through the streets in joyous celebration after the break in festivities caused by the global pandemic. There was no demand for testing masking or social distancing.
How then could Gonsalves square his policy with recent government action? How does this policy stand up to known scientific knowledge and understanding of the virus? It does not. The hard truth is that Gonsalves does not want to be proven wrong. He remains convinced that he is the only fount from which all knowledge flows.
Gonsalves is intent on further dismantling and destroying the trade union movement in our country. Having bought off the leadership of the National Workers Movement and the Commercial Technical and Allied Workers Union (read Noel Jackson and Burns Bonadie), he wants to take the fight out of the Teachers Union and the Public Service Union. He tells workers to disregard the union leadership and accept his splitting and divisive policies. And even then, he does not offer them any guarantees. He wants the dismissed workers to reapply to be rehired, to place them on contract, and offer them an unsecured future, unlike the security of tenure they enjoyed before he dismissed them in December 2021.
Why do young and enlightened parliamentarians like Saboto Caesar, Camillo Gonsalves, Keisal Peters and Carlos James allow Gonsalves to wreck their future political chances? Why would they associate themselves with these policies, which clearly fly in the face of common sense? Why do trained medical professionals like Simone Keiser-Beache and Roger Duncan allow Gonsalves to declare this nonsensical but politically charged policy under their names?
Gonsalves is responding to political pressure. He is well aware that his party failed to win the majority vote in the 2020 election. After five terms, his hold on power is tenuous at best. Therefore, he is trying to find ways to win favours with the dismissed workers, their families and supporters by appearing to be generous, caring and compassionate. The best policy would be to reinstate the workers with all rights and benefits they held before they were dismissed. But he can’t bring himself to admit that he was wrong. He cannot stomach the reality that neither the facts of science of COVID-19 nor the vaccines are with him.
Gonsalves also knows that the constitutionality of his COVID mandate will be decided at trial on Nov. 29, 2022. He knows that his chances of prevailing at trial are slim to none. He is making no concessions to the workers. He knows the court will compel him to reinstate the workers with all of their benefits. But his vindictive nature does not allow him to climb down from his high horse of power. The people must ensure that he comes down. It is left for him to pray that he does not injure himself in the impending fall.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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