The New Democratic Party (NDP) welcomes the ruling on Monday 13th March by the High Court in the lawsuit that was brought against the Unity Labour Party (ULP) government by the public sector unions, which challenged the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The judge ruled in favour of the unions. The government has signalled its intention to appeal the ruling. It must be noted that an NDP government will discontinue any appeal in the vaccine mandate lawsuit. And, we reiterate our call for the government to reinstate the workers.
November 2021, the ULP government instituted its draconian COVID- 19 vaccine mandate, requiring police officers, teachers, nurses and certain other government and state entities to take the COVID- 19 vaccine, as a standard of qualification for work. Hundreds of workers were not vaccinated. As a result, they were fired from their jobs by a wicked and vindictive regime causing severe hardship and psychological pain for these workers and their families. It was indeed a cruel act by the government.
Let us reflect on this statement which was made in November of 2021 by the President of the NDP Dr. the Honourable Godwin Friday:
“The NDP’s position on this matter is clear. While we, as a party support vaccination as a means of combatting COVID-19, we are philosophically opposed to making the COVID- 19 vaccine mandatory. Mandating vaccines—i.e. forcing people to be vaccinated against their will is not who we are as a democratic society. It is also not who we wish to be as a people. And, firing government workers and taking away their benefits because they have not taken the COVID- 19 vaccine is cruel and counter-productive and will create more unemployment and misery in our country.
Let us acknowledge that the world was caught off-guard and unprepared by COVID-19. No country was truly prepared to tackle a public health problem on such as large scale. A year ago, we did not have any safe and effective vaccines against coronavirus; that only became available early this year. It is therefore understandable, if concerning, that our vaccination rates are low, even though safe, effective, and free vaccines are now available. As a democratic society however, our concern and even frustration for some must not manifest into actions likened to dictatorship.
Mandating vaccination is not the way to go. All over the world, governments that have considered such as measure as a way out of the pandemic have retreated from mandatory vaccination. But, not in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It is only through collaborative endeavours, communication, and trust that we can win this battle against COVID- 19. The ULP administration has time and again has broken the trust of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. They have also neglected to engage with civil society and the private sector in any meaningful way over the years.
Now they have resorted to draconian measures to seek to achieve their aims, while disregarding the impact those measures are having on our public sector workers and the society. They have told teachers, nurses, police officers, other public and state entity workers to get vaccinated or lose their jobs. And, now that the policy has been implemented, workers have been made the problem. Since when did nurses, teachers, other public servants, and police officers become the problem in our country? Does COVID-19 truly require this government to treat its own workers so unfairly and so harshly? No, it does not.
When did these workers with long service and valuable work experience suddenly become disposable so that they can easily be replaced with new recruits? Statements by government officials about replacing police officers, teachers, nurses, including those who have many years of service and experience in their jobs with new recruits disrespect those affected employees. Instead of threatening them with losing their jobs, their experience and skill must be valued, and every effort made to keep them working.
An NDP government would not have a mandatory vaccination policy and would not be firing public servants because of such a policy. Anyone who is fired or resigns because of the government’s vaccine mandate must be rehired or otherwise compensated without loss of benefits. An NDP government would ensure that anyone who resigns or is dismissed form his/her job because of the government’s vaccine mandate is rehired or otherwise compensated and will receive all affected benefits as well.
No one should be forced to choose between their body and their bread. There are better and more effective ways to achieve vaccination goals that do not devalue and divide our people. The government’s approach divides families, workplaces, churches, and communities. It fosters resentment and distrust of government and engenders unnecessary fear among our people. Trust and partnership are the cornerstones that would place us well on the path to achieving recommended vaccination targets and better success against the pandemic. These factors are lacking in this administration’s current strategy and what we see here is simply the current administration lying in a bed that they made, as the old adage goes.
We must accept that there are different perspectives and be willing to listen so that we can better understand where we are and where we need to go in combatting COVID-19. In light of the high level of distrust of authority and the COVID- 19 vaccines, it is foolhardy to proceed with the approach that it is ‘my way or the highway’.
The ULP administration has historically done nothing more than deprecate the views of others. They have stopped listening and therefore choose to take heavy-handed approaches when their leadership failures are laid bare for the world to see. The poor uptake reflects the failure of the ULP administration to listen and engage with our people. To re-emphasize, the NDP does not support vaccine mandates. We believe that ethical and collaborative leadership is better and is needed here.”