The stay of execution of the High Court ruling in the COVID-19 vaccine mandate lawsuit will prolong the suffering of the public sector workers dismissed under the mandate, says Opposition Leader Godwin Friday.
The Court of Appeal has granted a stay of Justice Esco Henry’s March 13 ruling that the government acted illegally when it fired the workers in December 2021.
The judge also held that the workers never ceased to hold their jobs and are entitled to all salaries and benefits they would have received, as well as punitive damages.
But the government appealed the ruling and asked the Court of Appeal to grant a stay of execution, pending the outcome of the appeal.
“This is, of course, a decision that will prolong the hardship for the persons who are directly affected by the mandate,” said Friday, whose New Democratic Party (NDP) opposed the mandate from the inception.
“We have said that that position or that policy, that approach by the government was wrong and that should never have been implemented,” he said on his party’s New Times programme on NICE Radio.
“And then, of course, when it was challenged in the court, we felt that the government should not have gone all the way to fight this matter in the court when circumstances on the ground had changed, that people are living with COVID and life has moved on and we are picking up the pieces of our lives that were shattered by COVID and, of course, the volcanic eruption and moving on as a country and we want to do so together, you can’t leave some people behind.”
He reiterated that in firing the public sector workers, the government “forced them out of the bread without giving them any proper consideration as to their individual cases”.
Friday, who is also a lawyer, noted that the High Court held that the government’s actions were unconstitutional, and ultra vires — meaning that it didn’t have the jurisdiction to do what it did.
He said that with the granting of the stay of execution, the workers “now have to go back in limbo and wonder and consider what is going to happen with them and how much longer this is going to take”.
The opposition leader noted that a lawyer for the dismissed workers has said his team would seek to have the appeal heard soonest.
“But you know how those things can run. They can take a very long time,” he said, noting that the petitions that his party brought challenging the results of the 2015 general elections, took five years to be heard.
“This is something that we know how the courts can be — parties on one side how they can drag their feet and delay and so forth, and every effort must be made, given the fact that the stay is in place that every effort has to be made to get this matter before the Court of Appeal as quickly as possible, and to have it heard as quickly as possible and to have the judgment as is the expectations of the lawyers for the unions.”
The opposition leader said he hopes that the Court of Appeal upholds the decision of Justice Henry.
“… the people in the country, by vast majority, do not want the government to impose and to continue with this policy of the vaccine mandate, penalising people who did not take the vaccine and forcing them out of their jobs, firing them from their jobs,” Friday said.
“The vast majority of the people in the country don’t want the government to use taxpayers’ money to go and appeal this decision, irrespective of how much they believe that they are right and so forth and seeking vindication or they can’t take that they’ve lost the High Court.
“They want them to let the people go back to work, do the fair, just and decent thing. Let them go back to work, give them back the benefits…” he said, noting that some people were dismissed after decades of service.
The opposition leader said that the matter could have been resolved politically, without the unions having to take the government to court.
“This is something I should have been dealt with politically where the government says ‘Listen, the right thing to do in this circumstance is to put the people back in the job and to start them from where they left off back in December of 2021 as if they’ve never left, at least they’d never left because the court said they never left their jobs’,” Friday said.
“And I have said and say it again very clearly because there are some persons who are, you can never be too clear for them in terms of articulating our policies as the New Democratic Party is that we oppose the mandate.
“We oppose the government defending the matter in the court. You should have simply consented to the application if that was made but they’re fighting it out in the court. We oppose the government going to the appeal and appealing this matter.”
He suggested that the government withdraw the appeal and say, ‘Listen, we believe in our case’ if they want to say that or whatever the reasons that they may choose to discontinue the matter.
“They can provide a reason for doing so and then simply discontinue tomorrow. But at the very latest if that doesn’t happen, when the NDP forms government, we will institute the policy that puts those people who are affected back to work with their benefits and their salaries intact as the High Court has said and do the fair, just and decent thing,” Friday said.
“For those persons who were affected, and have suffered so much for so long. We will do the right thing. Put them back to work with all the benefits and salaries intact. The government should do that now. If they drag it out, then they’re only causing greater harm and the people should punish them for it because they’re being vindictive.”