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Unions in St Vincent plan protest following vaccine mandate court victory

Published:Monday | March 20, 2023 | 11:38 AM
President of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union, Oswald Robinson. - CMC photo.

KINGSTOWN, St Vincent, CMC - The St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers' Union and the Public Service Union Monday called for public sector workers to protest outside the Financial Complex against the government's decision to appeal last week's ruling by the High Court in the vaccine mandate trial.

The Police Welfare Association, whose industrial action options are limited by law, welcomed the ruling by Justice Esco Henry and called for the government to accept the court order.

In its ruling, the High Court said public sector workers dismissed under the mandate never ceased to be employed and are entitled to all their wages and other benefits.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said retired jurists are among those who he said are questioning the implication of the decision of the court in the vaccine case.

Speaking on a radio programme, Gonsalves reiterated that his government would appeal the court ruling and would also ask it to stay the execution of the judgment.

“Now we are satisfied that what we did as the government was right, was proper, was legal, was constitutional,” said Gonsalves, an attorney, who is also the Minister of Legal Affairs.

“And we consider that the judgment of the learned trial judge is wrong,” he said, adding that his government has been properly advised on this by its lead lawyer on the matter, Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan, as well as “former judges, retired judges, including of the Court of Appeal, advised by academicians, professors at the University of the West Indies.

“So, the first thing is that a judgment by a single judge is not — we're not just going to accept that,” Gonsalves said, adding that the matter has to be “properly ventilated, before the Court of Appeal or even further, if necessary”.

Gonsalves said that the government's decision to appeal should not come as news.

The teachers' union president, Oswald Robinson, in a voice note released on Sunday, urged members of the population to take part in the industrial action scheduled to begin at midday local time.

“Fellow Vincentians, this is the time to wake up. This is the perfect time to rise up in lawful, peaceful protest against the anti-rights action of the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines,” Robinson said.

He said that the vaccine mandate, which came into effect under Statutory Rule and Order No. 28 of 2021, passed by the Cabinet, threatened workers' fundamental rights.

“The rights of over 500 employees were actually violated because of refusing to take a so-called vaccine, as a result of which they were fired. This wickedness must stop,” Robinson said.

“To force anyone to vaccinate is still against the right of their conscience; to reject the ruling of the court on Monday, March 13, 2023, is contemptuous; to waste taxpayers' money to appeal the judge's ruling is reckless and not in the interest of the public,” he added.

Immediately after the ruling was handed down, a lawyer for the government informed the court that the state intends to appeal and Justice Henry said she had anticipated that whichever party lost would have appealed.

Last week, the unions advised their members dismissed under the mandate to return to their jobs, noting that the court ruled that they never ceased to be employed.

However, the workers have been turned away from their workplaces, with the Ministry of Education telling teachers that the Attorney General's Chambers has advised of the government's intention to appeal.

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