Union calls for protest as gov’t threatens to appeal vaccine mandate judgement
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union and the Public Service Union have called public sector workers to protest outside the Financial Complex today (Monday) against the government’s decision to appeal the court’s decision in the vaccine mandate trial, handed down one week earlier.
The Police Welfare Association, whose industrial action options are limited by law, welcomed the ruling by Justice Esco Henry, and called on the government to accept the court order.
Among other things, the court said that public sector workers dismissed under the mandate never ceased to be employed and are entitled to all their wages and other benefits.
On Sunday, Oswald Robinson, president of the Teachers Union, released another voice note via social media, urging Vincentians to take part in the picket, which is scheduled to begin at noon today.
“Fellow Vincentians, this is the time to wake up. This is the perfect time to rise up in lawful, peaceful protest against the anti-rights action of the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Robinson said.
He said that the vaccine mandate, which came into effect under Statutory Rule and Order No. 28 of 2021, a law passed by the Cabinet, threatened workers’ fundamental rights.
“The rights of over 500 employees were actually violated because of refusing to take a so-called vaccine, as a result of which they were fired. This wickedness must stop,” Robinson said.
“To force anyone to vaccinate is still against the right of their conscience; to reject the ruling of the court on Monday, March 13th, 2023, is contemptuous; to waste taxpayers’ money to appeal the judge’s ruling is reckless and not in the interest of the public,” he said.
Immediately after the ruling was handed down, a lawyer for the government informed the court that the state intends to appeal, and Justice Henry said she had anticipated that whichever party lost would have appealed.
The government also says that it would apply for a stay of execution of the court order.
Last week, the unions advised their members dismissed under the mandate to return to their jobs, noting that the court ruled that they never ceased to be employed.
However, the workers have been turned away from their workplaces, with the Ministry of Education telling teachers that the Attorney General’s Chambers has advised of the government’s intention to appeal.
“The failure to allow the affected workers to resume their jobs is spiteful and a further torture and dehumanising by the state. This government is violating the rights and freedoms of honest and peaceful Vincentians and this injustice must stop,” Robinson said.
“My fellow Vincentians, we have the power in our hands. Together, let us defend the rights and freedoms of our fellow citizens, especially those who have been affected as a result of this wicked vaccine mandate.
“Let us show that we are not afraid of this government. Please join us in a lawful, peaceful picket in front of the financial complex tomorrow, Monday, the 28th of March 2023 as we make our voices heard. Come on, come all as we stand together for justice, for liberty of conscience.”
On Friday, the unions and PWA held a joint press conference at which Elroy Boucher, president of the PSU, noted that workers have not been allowed to return to work, despite the court ruling.
“So, we are going to, as trade unions, pressure the government to withdraw that appeal and to obey the orders of the court. And that is why I said we are calling an entire country,” Boucher said.
“There has to be righteous indignation across the nation against it,” he told the media.