Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has made yet another appeal for teachers fired last year over the COVID-19 vaccine mandate to reapply for their jobs.
“Put yourself in a possible win-win situation, apply for your job. It’s not a trick… You can still pursue your case, but apply for your job,” he said, referring to the lawsuit that some public sector workers, through their unions, have brought against his government.
He told a press conference in Kingstown, on Tuesday, that the Ministry of Education had informed him, on Monday, that 55 teachers had reapplied for employment.
“Some of them have taken the vaccines and come abroad and others who are not vaccinated have applied for employment,” Gonsalves said.
However, President of the Teachers’ Union, Oswald Robinson, on Wednesday, dismissed the prime minister’s comments as propaganda, telling iWitness News, that the union’s intelligence suggested that teachers who were hired on short contract had applied and the ministry told them that its priority was teachers dismissed over the mandate.
On Tuesday, the prime minister, addressing teachers “directly”, said that the Ministry of Education was ready to send to the Public Service Commission (PSC), which meets on Thursday, the names of people to be appointed to positions.
“… they (PSC) had put yesterday as the deadline for applying. I’ve asked them if they can extend the deadline to the Monday [Aug. 22] because I suspect that more teachers may wish to apply,” Gonsalves said.
He said that being a party to the lawsuit does not bar a teacher from reapplying for re-employment.
“Anybody who gives you any advice and tells you that if you apply back for your job is some trickery or it’s weakening your case which you have, tell them that Ralph say, that is political advice, that ain’t legal advice,” said Gonsalves, who is also a lawyer.
“That ain’t legal advice. I don’t know who’s giving that advice. Please, listen to me on it. Now, don’t let any vanities get involved; I don’t have any vanities in this,” he said.
The prime minister said that he does not know whether the legal challenge would end after the hearing in November or whether it would end up before the Privy Council, which could take three years.
“I don’t know because I can’t predict anything. All I know is that we were properly advised legally and we are satisfied that the position of the government is correct,” Gonsalves said, adding that it is open to dismissed teachers to say that the government’s position was wrong.
“But all I’m saying to you, you have nothing to lose by applying for your job.”
He reiterated that teachers who are rehired would not be foregoing any previous benefit.
“That’s not so. Under the existing law, you can add subsequent service with your previous service and that is what we are doing,” he said, adding that his government is known “for making sure that people get pensions who had never gotten pension before”.
He mentioned among these educators employed by religious organisations, and nursing assistants.
“This government is known as the one which widened the net for people to get pension. Why would I want to humbug you with your pension?” Gonsalves said.
“Anybody who tells you that is somebody who’s a Ralph hater, or who has a political agenda and wants to use you as some kind of battering ram. A lot of people try that in the past but I’m still standing.
“Just put on your thinking cap, please, and don’t allow people to mislead you,” Gonsalves said.