PR – In May 2020 the Caribbean Public Services Association (CPSA) in a document submitted to respective Governments in the region outlined some measures which would aid in dealing with the COVID19 pandemic. Unfortunately the majority of the Governments did not acknowledge or respond to our communication, a practice which has become habitual. The CPSA recognizes that we are facing a pandemic and that the support and cooperation of all are needed if we are going to combat this deadly virus. We cannot disagree that protecting and saving lives is the ultimate goal. It was that reality that prompted the CPSA to act very early to develop a position paper and to engage regional Governments among other things, on how best to jointly understand, and to create a balance framework on how to deal with employees, many of whom are in the frontline in the fight against COVID–19. There was no demonstration by Governments in any visible way of a willingness to work collaboratively with unions to address the needs and concerns of these frontline workers including their safety and that of their families. In some instances, we were simply told that this was not normal times. We however believe that it is during abnormal times that unattended issues should be addressed and mistakes corrected in order to motivate employees to work towards meeting set goals and objectives. Unions should be fully engaged in consultation and in agreement on key decisions that affect their members and their families.
The usual resources which are normally given in times of crisis, for example to cover overtime, effective shift systems, time off for those working long hours, and transportation were not provided in some instances to allow for effective community outreach programmes and manning COVID/quarantine centres.
Worldwide the issue of vaccination has received mixed reactions. While there is evidence that vaccines work, there are legitimate reasons why people refuse to be vaccinated. There are workers with underlying conditions who are incompatible with vaccination. All parties must therefore work to build trust in vaccination programmes and encourage a voluntary approach to yield a more inclusive environment.
Unions across the region have welcomed vaccination programmes and have gone publicly and encouraged citizens to be vaccinated. Many Union leaders have themselves been vaccinated but have done so, taking full responsibility for their decisions.
Many of the countries which are currently experiencing a spike in COVID cases had laid down their guards. The protocols were violated and, in many instances, and sadly so by those who should have known better.
The situation has gotten out of control. To reverse it efforts are being made through legislation to impose mandatory vaccination.
The CPSA supports citizens‘ fundamental rights and freedoms including the right to make personal decisions regarding their health and more specifically
the rights to agree or not as to what foreign entity enters their bodies. Since the vaccines which are being used to combat COVID19 are in their experimental stages, the issue of indemnity becomes a subject of concern. A fundamental question would be: Will Governments or employers accept responsibility or liability for any possible harm/terminal side effects experienced by employees who were mandated to take the vaccines?
Recent developments in Antigua, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados are indications that citizens are opposed to mandatory vaccination. It does not mean that they are against vaccination and other measures to curb the problem, the issue remain that mandatory vaccination dismisses the fact that people have genuine reasons why they chose not to be vaccinated. We are confident that by enforcing already existing measures and by continuing to engage stakeholders in discussions other workable ideas will emerge. While our medical professionals from across the region need to be complemented for their hard work and sacrifices one must understand that the spread of the virus cannot be viewed from only a medical point of view but that the social factors are also important.
Threats of denying employees the right to report for duty and denying some employees entry into their places of work if they are not vaccinated and tested is a form of punishment. Our constitutions provide to the Public Service Commissions the authority to discipline public officers and the regulations clearly set out the procedures to be followed in doing so and these provisions must be respected and upheld.
When Government seeks to introduce new legislation in doing so they should ensure that the constitutional rights of citizens are not violated. We understand the need from time to time to institute states of emergencies and in doing so that some rights of citizens would be suspended. However, as it relates mandatory vaccination, since there‘s no reverse procedures, people should consent to their children and themselves receiving foreign substances into their bodies.
Citizens and in particular public officers should not dismiss the idea of getting vaccinated. It must be a personal decision which should not be forced on anyone.
Motivation to get tested and vaccinated should be done through education and not by mandatory action.
Protocols of wearing masks, frequent washing of hands with soap and water and rubbing with alcohol base sanitizer, sanitization of surfaces and physical distancing should be enforced without any compromise or exceptions. Workers who are not providing a highly critical service and those with underlying conditions can be asked to work from home with the understanding that a shift system may have to be considered in certain instances in order to avoid total denial of some services.
Virtual consultation with stakeholders is necessary if the needs and concerns of frontline workers are to be addressed. The CPSA advocates and promotes those approaches and opposes mandatory vaccination which in our view if targeted at one group in our society would be discriminatory.