SVG unions, gov’t hold meeting over ‘vax or test’ policy

iWitness News – The three main unions representing public sector workers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) were scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves on Tuesday, concerning their objection to the government’s COVID-19 vaccination or test policy.

The Public Service Union, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU), and the Police Welfare Association (PWA), at a joint press conference on Saturday, stated their membership’s objection to the policy.

At the same press briefing, the unions’ legal counsel outlined individuals’ rights to refuse to take the vaccine and the legal hurdles that the government could face in implementing the proposed policy.

Brenton Smith, chairman of the PWA, told the media that his members are aware of the government’s need to respond to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and to adjust the health situation in SVG.

“However, we are of the view that the policy set out by the government is arbitrary and needs dialogue,” Smith said.

He said that over 80% of police officers from the rank of constable to inspector do not support of government’s vax or test and that the PWA will continue to educate its members.

PSU president, Elroy Boucher, said the government’s policy is not among the protocols set out by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO), or even local health authorities.

“And in those protocols, there is not one mention of rigorous testing every two weeks,” Boucher said.

He further stated that the PSU estimates that over 95% of the public service is against this policy.

Meanwhile, Oswald Robinson, president of the SVGTU, told the briefing that the union’s constitution mandates its leadership to defend all fundamental rights and freedom that have universal acceptance, and to work toward the removal of injustices and inequalities in the society. 

“The teachers of St. Vincent Grenadines made the decision that under no circumstances, will they subject themselves to any mandatory testing or vaccination,” Robinson said, referring to the outcome of a union meeting last Tuesday March 30.

In an April 1 letter to Philip Bailey, general secretary of the PSU, Deputy Prime Minister Montgomery Daniel, who was then Acting Prime Minister, reiterated the official policy position of the government” on the issue of vaccination.

“I wish to advise that, while vaccination is strongly recommended, it is not mandatory for public sector workers. However, in order to safeguard the health and safety of all persons in the workplace, it is a requirement that workers who have not received at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine to be tested on a regular basis for COVID-19 infection, up to once every two weeks, based on the relative level of risks as determined by health authorities.”

According to a Cabinet memo sent to senior public servants and Attorney General Jaundy Martin, public sector workers who have taken an approved COVID-19 vaccine have until Wednesday, April 7, to submit proof of this to their respective ministries, departments, or agencies.

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