An opposition MP is hoping the Unity Labour Party (ULP) uses its celebration rally on Sunday to announce that the government is obeying the court and allowing workers dismissed under the vaccine mandate to return to work.
“Well, I’m hoping when they have the celebration that the announcement will be made that all workers [are] getting back their jobs,” Terrance Ollivierre, Parliamentary representative for the Southern Grenadines said.
“I am hoping that is what you are going out there for. So, we can celebrate workers are back on the jobs,” Ollivierre, the opposition New Democratic Party’s (NDP) spokesperson on education issues, told a party rally in Kingstown on Thursday.
The ULP has announced a rally at the E.T. Joshua Tarmac on Sunday to celebrate its 22nd anniversary in government.
The entertainment line-up includes local and regional acts, such as Mighty Gabby, Logiq, Nailah Blackman, Fireman Hooper and Skinny Fabulous.
The celebration event comes just two weeks after the High Court ruled that the ULP administration acted unconstitutionally and unlawfully when it deemed public sector workers who had not taken a vaccine by December 2021 to have resigned their jobs.
The government has appealed the decision and applied to the court for a stay of execution of its order that the workers never ceased to hold their post, are entitled to all pay and benefits they would have received had it not been for the government’s action, as well as damages to deter the government from acting similarly in the future.
Ollivierre noted that the government has complained to the court of appeal that it would have problems finding the EC$11 million due to the workers.
He said that the money would have had to be paid to the workers if the government had not deemed them to have abandoned their jobs.
“What did you do with it? It is time that the people of this country recognise that they were dealt a horrible wrong. They were dealt a horrible wrong by the ULP administration,” said Ollivierre, a former teacher.
“And it’s time — you can’t be afraid to stand up because if you are afraid to stand up today, you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow,” the five-term MP said.
The NDP opposed the vaccine mandate, including voting in Parliament against the law under which the Cabinet later brought the mandate into effect.
“… I want everybody out there to understand if it was the New Democratic Party in government, it would have never happened,” he said, adding that his party has always maintained that the mandate is wrong.
“So, you can count and trust the New Democratic Party to take care of the rights of workers,” he said.
He noted that a Labour government dismissed the workers even as it has spoken often about righting wrongs.
“It is time that we make right an unconstitutional wrong that was done to the people of this country,” he said, adding that the government was putting workers under further pressure by refusing to reinstate them, despite the court order.
“There are workers in this country who have lost their homes or are on the verge of doing so; have lost all that they have worked for,” he said.
“There are some people who have worked for 30 something years, close to retirement and you put them on the breadline without anything. What do you want them to do? And you call yourself a Labour government? We all know the party that takes care of workers inside this country.”
He said that absence of “our experienced and talented teachers” from the classroom is having a negative impact on education outcomes.
Ollivierre noted that last year, 75 students left secondary school without passing a subject.
“You have heard the cries of people on radio talking about the students have nobody who’s versed in teaching them and guiding them through their SBAs…
“So, you’re not only affecting the teachers, you’re affecting the young people, you’re affecting the future of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and it’s time that something must be done about it.”
This week, there were protests in Kingstown against the government’s decision to appeal the court ruling.
Ollivierre further noted that the government has spoken about the cost of reinstating the workers and paying their accrued benefits.
“But I want to ask you this question: How much money you’re paying the lawyers for the appeal? That money can go to pay the teachers.
“You’re talking about where you’re getting the money from? Where are you getting the money to pay for the appeal, and you have people out there suffering?”
He called on the nation to rally behind the affected workers, adding that as Trinidadian calypsonian Black Stalin sang, “better days are coming”.
“But in order for us to achieve this “better days”, you must join together with the New Democratic Party who cared for you, who stood up for you and say enough is enough. It’s time that the ULP go aside.”
He said that instead of appealing the court ruling, the ULP should “drink your pride” and say, “We make a wrong …
“Humble yourself and say to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines — even though you don’t want to come out and say you’re sorry — say, to the workers, ‘We’re giving you back your work.’”
“Today may be the teachers and some civil servants … Tomorrow it may be you and then you will want people to stand up with you. I’m saying to you, all teachers, all civil servants, all workers, whatever level you work at, it’s time for you to stand up as workers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and demand better from this government.”