Castries, Saint Lucia, Saturday October 16, 2021:– The Trade Union Federation (TUF) has taken-on the cause of 18 employees of the Saint Lucia branch of a North American company who’ve refused to vaccinate to continue working, saying they were effectively fired without being told.
The TUF, an umbrella entity representing several trade unions, adopted the workers’ cause after management of the Odsan-based company instituted requirements for vaccination to keep the workplace safe from COVID-19.
The employees had to choose between being vaccinated or taking regular tests and opted for neither, but TUF President Julian Monrose claimed earlier this week they were forced by management into unemployment.
But while the company has remained mainly quiet, other employers with similar workplace vaccination requirements argue that the unions are not addressing the wider issue of the survival of the businesses employing their members.
According to one employer who faced a similar situation at her small enterprise, “I find it a bit disingenuous for unions representing workers’ rights to encourage them to violate the rights of other workers and employers who work (like me) by encouraging their members to expose themselves and us all, to possible COVID-19 infection.”
She continued, “I also find it hard to swallow that the TUF President would discourage teachers and public service officers from taking actions that can better protect their health, their lives and their livelihoods,” she continued.
Employers here are mainly supportive of workplace protection through vaccination, with both the Chamber of Industry, Commerce & Agriculture and the Saint Lucia Industrial and Small Business Association (SLISBA) indicating last week the majority of their members support vaccination requirements at workplaces.
The Chamber and SLISBA also insist the very survival of some businesses is at stake.
One ex-Chamber President, speaking anonymously, told Saint Lucia News Online (SLNO) yesterday (Friday): “It’s not only owners, shareholders and management that stand to lose if the workplace is closed-down because of COVID, because the same workers being defended will also be out of work…”
Unionists naturally have a totally different take.
One ex-TUF president, also requesting anonymity in the circumstances, told SLNO: “No matter how you look at it, if the employer takes actions that result in the workers losing their jobs, it does not really matter how it was done — the worker was terminated…”
Unions and employers are caught in a natural Catch 22 situation, but so are employers and health authorities, as the pro-vaccination lobby also argues the workers involved exercised choices and should live with it.
“They cannot choose not to work and expect to be paid,” said a manager of a restaurant at Rodney Bay who’s been able to convince all his staff to vaccinate.
“My workers are not very many, but they opted to protect themselves, each other, management and customers. So, we’re still open…”
Teachers and Public Service Unions in Antigua & Barbuda, Guyana, St. Vincent & The Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago are on the frontlines in the organized regional opposition to mandatory or required vaccination.
But the Antigua & Barbuda high court last week ruled that the nation’s Public Service Association (PSA) – which challenged the government’s mandatory vaccination policy — cannot prevent it.
Like private employers here, the Antigua & Barbuda government has argued it hasn’t forced workers out of jobs, but instead gave them choices.
Not all teachers and public servants take their unions’ positions, however, with increasing numbers of frontline workers — Nurses and Doctors, Police and Immigration, Air and Sea Port workers, etc. – actually urging all fellow workers interacting with the public to vaccinate.
According to a retired teacher and former SLTU President (who also requested anonymity due to her current job), “Why would the TUF President try to pull wool over workers’ eyes in this case? If the workplace isn’t healthy, how can the workers be safe?”
In this case of the North American company involved here, she added: “The workers have to live with their mature choices, or like everybody else who chooses not to vaccinate. ”
The TUF’s position is also being challenged by those who know the related laws and interpret them differently.
According to a former leading SLTU Executive member who’s now a practicing attorney, “The TUF, as an umbrella body, can represent its constituent member-unions. But it is not a union, so it cannot represent workers directly.”
She continued by looking at court’s ruling in the recent Antigua & Barbuda case, saying: “The court made two major rulings: First, that the Public Service Association is not a registered union; and second, that under a State of National Emergency (in place by an Act of Law) the government’s decision cannot be legally challenged by the unions…”
“Besides,” the lady lawyer continued, “in my humble view, teachers and public servants being discouraged from vaccinating need to know whether the positions being adumbrated by their representatives are the union’s position, or their personal positions.”
But while the unions and employers continue their stand-off over required vaccination at workplaces, the pace at which governments and employers worldwide are heading in that direction continues to accelerate.
Increasing numbers of parents of unvaccinated primary and secondary school students regionally, for example, are expressing concern about their children’s safety with unvaccinated teachers.
With numbers of positive cases having declined somewhat here, some health authorities are offering glimmers of hope that there can be some COVID-19 respite, maybe by the end of November 2021.
But others are also offering words of caution about possibly over-exaggerating the possibilities.
Likewise, with the USA, Canada, the UK, the European Union and the rest of the world embracing Mandatory Vaccination, many more are accepting today that the Caribbean will soon have no choice but to follow suit.
According to the lady lawyer, “Every sensible assessment of the global response to COVID-19 today is that it’s just a matter of time before we have no choice but to also embrace mandatory or required vaccination – and not only at workplaces…”