The parties in the case challenging the COVID-19 vaccine mandate in St. Vincent and the Grenadines were on Wednesday still awaiting the ruling of the Court of Appeal on an application by the government to stay the execution of the order of the High Court in the matter.
On March 13, High Court judge Justice Esco Henry ruled that the mandate, which resulted in hundreds of public sector workers being dismissed from their jobs in 2021 was unconstitutional.
Justice Henry further held that the workers never ceased to hold their respective jobs and are entitled to all salaries and benefits they would have received, as well as punitive damages.
The government has appealed the ruling and applied for a stay of execution of the order of the court, pending the outcome of the appeal.
Jomo Thomas, a lawyer for the workers in the case, said on his Plain Talk commentary on Boom FM, on Wednesday, that a Court of Appeal judge considered the arguments on Tuesday, but the court was yet to hand down its decision.
The lawyers did not have to appear before the judge, who considered the papers submitted in support of and against the application for the stay.
“… the matter was heard yesterday and we wait for a decision as regards the stay,” Thomas said.
He reiterated, as he said on Tuesday, that if the court grants the stay, his legal team will push for the appeal to be heard swiftly, adding that the complainants are confident that the appeal court will uphold Justice Henry’s decision.
“Hopefully we can have it done in July when the court comes here,” he said, adding that the Court of Appeal, an itinerant court, comes to St. Vincent the week of July 14.
“I know that as one of the attorneys and as part of a team of attorneys on that matter, we are hoping that the court does not grant the stay so that the government can proceed to make arrangements to pay the workers and let the matter be heard in [July],” Thomas said.
He reiterated his view that “the government has a high mountain to climb, to have the substantive appeal overturned”, adding “and that mountain is higher than Soufriere”, referring to St. Vincent’s 4,048-foot volcano.
He said the affected workers have been off the job for 17 months, adding that if the Court of Appeal does not grant a stay of execution of the High Court order, the government will have to start paying the salaries that the workers would have received had it not been for the government’s actions to fire them.
Thomas said the workers have until June 24 “to come up with whatever damages they may have suffered.
“So, for example, the court says that they were improperly removed from their jobs, they weren’t getting salaries, they couldn’t pay their mortgage, they couldn’t pay their insurance, they couldn’t do certain things.
“Because they are unable to do that, they may have gone into default, there’s a huge interest back up now for a year or more. The government would be responsible for paying all of that, to bring them back to a place where they were before the government improperly, unlawfully removed them from their jobs.”
He said that if the government does get a stay of execution “and then the substantive appeal is heard and Henry’s decision is upheld, as we expect it would be, then the government would still have to make all of those payments”.
On Tuesday, Thomas said that his legal team would try to prevent any attempts to delay the hearing of the appeal.
“What we don’t want is for the government to get a stay and then for them to engage in some kind of stalling tactics to pressure the workers into, to browbeat the workers, to stonewall the workers into applying, reapplying for a job by the mere economic pressure that would come down on them.”
He said that people are anticipating the ruling of the court on the stay of execution.
“I mean, we have to remember it’s 17 months now and counting that these workers were arbitrarily, unlawfully, unconstitutional kicked out of their jobs, denied salaries, and that dismissal and the denial of salaries have put many of them, probably most of them, probably all of them, into dire straits because most of us, the vast majority of Vincentians we live from paycheque to paycheque or we are two or three paycheques away from serious economic problems,” he said.
The lawyer said many of the workers have to take care of themselves and their children, have mortgages to pay and other outstanding loans that they have not been able to do for 17 months.
“So, the burden, it seems to me, is greater on the dismissed workers than it is to the state,” Thomas said.
“The state, clearly, has a deeper pocket, the state can go out and borrow money as it has been doing relentlessly,” Thomas said, noting that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said recently that his government has borrowed EC$400 million from Taiwan since last September.