St Vincent: Unions Plan Protest Following Court Victory

(CMC) – The St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (STVGTU) and the Public Service Union (PSU) Monday called on public sector workers to protest outside the Financial Complex against the government’s decision to appeal last week’s High Court’s decision in the vaccine mandate trial.

The Police Welfare Association (PWA), whose industrial action options are limited by law, welcomed the ruling by Justice Esco Henry, and called on 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 the court to stay the execution of the judgement.

“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.

“… I had said that very early, that I think that whoever didn’t prevail with the judge of first instance, the High Court, that they would appeal. And that’s what is being done in this case.

“It is a matter not only for St Vincent and Grenadines from but across the region,” he said, adding that “senior lawyers”, including “retired jurists”, have been calling him and “posing questions beyond the actual case itself, but connected to the case.

“That is to say, is this a matter not better left to the Parliament and the authorities, the executive authorities in respect of a pandemic, because the law is there which provides for that?” Gonsalves said.

STVGTU 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 mid-day (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.

PSU president, Elroy Boucher, confirmed that public sector workers were not allowed to return to their jobs following the court ruling.

“So, we are going to, as trade unions, pressure the government to withdraw that appeal and to obey the orders of the court. And that is why I said we are calling an entire country,” Boucher said, adding “there has to be righteous indignation across the nation against it”.

Robinson said the failure to allow the affected workers to resume their jobs is “spiteful and further torture and dehumanising by the state.

“This government is violating the rights and freedoms of honest and peaceful Vincentians and this injustice must stop.

“My fellow Vincentians, we have the power in our hands. Together, let us defend the rights and freedoms of our fellow citizens, especially those who have been affected as a result of this wicked vaccine mandate.

“Let us show that we are not afraid of this government. Please join us in a lawful, peaceful picket in front of the financial complex … (on) Monday, the 20 of March 2023 as we make our voices heard. Come on, come all as we stand together for justice, for liberty of conscience,” Robinson added.