The Public Service Union, on Monday, called on health care workers to rise up against the “tyranny” of the government mandating that they take COVID-19 booster shots every five months in order to keep their jobs.
“It is time for all the health care workers to stand against this tyranny,” Elroy Boucher, the union’s president, said on the union’s weekly radio programme on NICE Radio.
“In light of the science that we have before us, in light of what is going on around the globe, we are taking these draconian measures when people are moving away from these measures?” Boucher said, referring to the government.
The union leader, who as a maintenance worker at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital, is captured under the booster shot requirement, said that the decision by the Cabinet was “downright wicked and heartless.
“Vincentians, not just healthcare workers, need to stand up and stop this tyranny,” Boucher said. “Nurses, stop with the division and let us come together and rise up against this tyranny.”
On Monday, a photograph, purporting to be of a memo from Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Cuthbert Knights, began to circulate on social media.
iWitness News was unable in its attempts to verify the authenticity of the document.
However, the union’s public relation’s officer, Shelly-Ann Alexander-Ross quoted its contents on the union’s programme.
The Aug. 5 document said that Cabinet, on July 27, directed that all healthcare workers, as defined in Statutory Rules and Orders Number 28, of 2021, “must be vaccinated against the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) and must receive boosters at five-month intervals after an initial two (2) dose series of an approved vaccine, in order to be eligible for employment in the health sector”.
According to SR&O. No. 28, of 2021, a law passed by the Cabinet, a “heath care employee” means “an employ performing services (whether clinical or non-clinical) at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital or a health service including administrative staff, security guards, cooks, cleaners, attendants or any other ancillary staff and (ii) a home helper providing care for the elderly under the programme operated by the Ministry of Social Development; and (b) includes a person engaged to perform services (whether clinical or non-clinical) at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital or a health service as an independent contractor, including (I) contractors and consultant; or (ii) visiting medical practitioners.”
On July 29, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves announced that his government has decided to consider the application for re-employment for certain categories of public sector workers, including teachers, who were dismissed last year for failing to take the vaccine.
The prime minister, however, said that vaccination and booster shots remain a requirement for existing and new healthcare workers, but gave no indication of the frequency of booster shots.
Commenting on the booster shot requirement, Alexander-Ross said, “… it doesn’t really matter if you have PhD, master’s, certificate, experience”, nothing makes you eligible for employment in the health sector.
She said that although they were not mentioned in the SR&O the administrative staff at the Ministry of Health building were told that they have to be vaccinated.
“I know some persons may be trembling in their boots at this time. I know a lot of persons who it took a lot of nerve in their body to take this vaccine at the last minute,” she said, referring to the December 2021 deadline by which workers had to take the jab in order to remain on the job.
She said she could only imagine the physiological stress people were experiencing having heard about the booster shot requirement.
“It doesn’t matter, according to the memo, what one has that would make them eligible for employment in the health sector. Right now, that is the only requirement. If you decide you’re not going to do it, that’s it,” she said.
Meanwhile, Boucher said he was “lost for words”, adding that while on his way to the radio programme someone called and asked if he had heard about the booster shots requirement.
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, what it is really saying,” he said, adding that the union has asked its lawyer to advise on the implications of the memo.
“… because it is not a piece of legislation but it is a cabinet memo that is basically saying that your employment depends on you taking boosters. If a cabinet memo says that, what is the function of the Service Commission? They are the ones who determine your employment, unless there is a law that speaks to employment,” Boucher said.
He said he probably should not ask the question, having seen “that the Service Commissions literally rubberstamps whatever decision that is made by Cabinet…
“The memo is another piece of the action, the decision by the politicians who are running the country to oppress the workers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and, in particular, this particular time, specific to this memo, the health care workers.”