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Jomo Thomas, a lawyer for the public servants in the vaccine mandate case. (iWN file photo)
Jomo Thomas, a lawyer for the public servants in the vaccine mandate case. (iWN file photo)

A lawyer for the trade unions in the vaccine mandate case says he is confident that the Court of Appeal would uphold the findings of the High Court that the government’s dismissal of workers under the COVID-19 vaccine mandate in 2021 constitutes a breach of natural justice, contravenes the Constitution, is unlawful, procedurally improper and void.

The Court of Appeal is slated to hear tomorrow (Thursday) the appeal by the Ralph GOnslaves-led Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration of the decision that Justice Esco Henry handed down on March 13, 2023.

Hundreds of workers were fired under the mandate but Justice Henry –who has since been appointed a justice of appeal — ruled that they never ceased to hold their posts and are entitled to all benefits that would have accrued to them had the government not deemed them to have resigned their jobs.

The appeal was slated to be heard on Feb. 1 but was adjourned after one of the justices of appeal was unavailable to hear the case, which would now be heard on Thursday in Antigua.

“The same confidence which we went into the case with when we brought the matter is the same confidence that we take to the Court of Appeal,” Jomo Thomas a counsel for the public servants told iWitness News on Wednesday (today), Labour Day.

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“We had an overwhelming victory before Justice Henry and it is our decision to defend the decision of Justice Henry,” Thomas further said.

“We believe the issues which we raised before Justice Henry, she ruled properly and we intend to show the court and we will invite the court to accept those findings and those rulings and we are confident the Court of appeal would do so,” Thomas said.

He spoke to iWitness News two days after opposition lawmaker St. Clair Leacock expressed hope that the unions would triumph before the Appeal Court.

The Public Service Union, St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union and the Police Welfare Association have sponsored the lawsuit, which was brought in the names of “dismissed” public sector workers, Shanile Howe, Novita Robert, Cavet Thomas, Alfonzo Lyttle, Brenton Smith, Sylvorne Olliver, Shefflorn Ballantyne, Travis Cumberbatch and Rohan Giles.

The respondents — now appellants — are the Minister of Health and the Environment, the Public Service Commission, the Commissioner of Police, the Attorney General and the Police Service Commission.

Leacock, speaking on his New Democratic Party’s radio show on NICE Radio noted on Monday that Labour Day features the working class and the role of the trade union movement in promoting workplace relations. 

He said that in the past, Labour Day would feature marches in Caribbean countries.

“It was a situation in which the unions were able to separate the politics from the industrial relations practice and the workers’ interest,” he said.

“Unfortunately, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines that has gone by the way, there is no longer a functional and active National Labour Congress as we know it.”

Leacock said there are “significant differences and disagreements and disharmony among the trade union movement” in SVG and “some, clearly, as people would say, bought out or openly canvassing for the government, and in the process, compromising and watering down the effectiveness of trade unionism”.

St. Clair Leacock 3
MP for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock in a Feb. 22, 2024 photo.

Leacock, a former head of the Employers’ Federation, said that to their credit, the Public Service Union and the Teachers’ Union are “keeping the good old tradition together”. 

The Central Kingstown MP said that while these unions would not necessarily have marches and other events on Labour Day, they are “doing what they have to do. 

“And I say in that regard, it is of some interest, in fact, great interest, … that within a day or two of the Labour Day celebrations, the Court of Appeal will meet in Antigua to address the vaccine mandate issue, which has implications for us specifically here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines but in other jurisdictions as well,” Leoack said. 

The lawmakers said one has to be “more than optimistic that the decision of the lower court, which found the government at fault virtually on all legal grounds, will be upheld”. 

Leacock said that in international jurisdictions, even as the debate wages on, most courts have been finding that the dismissal of workers for not taking COVID-19 vaccines is unfair. 

“So I suspect that the unions can anticipate a favourable outcome,” Leacock said.

He said the ULP came to office 23 years ago “on the backs of the trade union movement, with marches up and down St. Vincent and Grenadines and in some cases, quite unlawful behaviour and unruly conduct to satisfy a proclamation of making the country ungovernable…

“And this Labour Day meets the government with another first. It’s the first in living history of this country that the government has been at war with the labour movement and for so long a period of time, and is literally using the constitutional instruments and the courts as a sword against the labour movement.”

Leacock said it is a terrible situation for an administration that proclaims itself to be a Labour government “that they find themselves in the court and, by their own statements, shamelessly, embarrassing themselves to proclaim that if they don’t succeed in the Court of Appeal in the  Eastern Caribbean, that they are prepared to go to the Privy Council, the very colonial masters that they have been chanting for years and years and years.

“But, in a self-serving way, they’re prepared to ignore all sense of political hygiene, industrial relations, morality, and good common decency, and workers’ interests to make so many people suffer and suffer and suffer or, to use their own words, to suffer and die. 

“Because clearly, a lot of public servants have died as a consequence of the hard and oppressive exposure they’ve had over the years.”

Leacock said it is, therefore, “not a good time for the labour movement in the sense that they are embattled with the government, but in the same breath, it is an opportunity — and let us look forward and see the cup as being half full — that victory may well be at hand”. 

He said the teachers, police officers, nurses and public servants who have endured for the last several years, “may be able to say, ‘Victory at last! Victory at last! Thank God for a court of appeal, we have secured a victory.’

“So I’m crossing my fingers,” he said, adding that Opposition Leader and NDP President, Godwin Friday, congratulates Thomas and other members of the legal team, including fellow Vincentian counsel Zita Barnwell as well as their regional colleagues who are working on the case “but clearly on a widow’s mite. 

“The legal team has done well to represent unions,” Leacock said and congratulated the union leaders also.

“And I look forward to celebrating with them,” Leaock said, adding that he would start the celebration on Labour Day in Bequia “with another person who’s doing an extremely good job, another good president, Dr. Friday, who will be holding his May Day fair”.

One reply on “Lawyer confident as court hears appeal in vaccine mandate case”

  1. Take warning says:

    A government is to make the citizens life BETTER and not BITTER. In my opinion this dictator government is fighting the people and with this mandate is making their lives bitter. It was said that they will still vote for him. I still wondering if the people are so dotish, foolish stupid. I pray not.

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