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PSU primed for industrial action next month

PSU primed for industrial action next month
ELROY BOUCHER, president of the Public Service Union (PSU)

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With seemingly all of their options exhausted, the Public Service Union (PSU) and nurses of this country have decided to take industrial action and withdraw their services from September 7 to 10 in a direct response to the government’s amendment to the Public Health Act.

The amendment, which was passed on August 6, will require that certain essential workers take the COVID19 vaccine in the interest of public health.

But the PSU, nurses, and other entities, as well as a number of other Vincentians see this move as one that violates the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens.

“We are at a point where we took the decision to engage in industrial action to force the government to listen to the people, to listen to workers, to listen to the nation…given the vaccine uptake, you can safely say that more than 80 per cent of the population is against mandatory vaccination and in the face of that, the government decided to go ahead, ignoring the position of the Vincentian public and the public servants and workers in general,” Elroy Boucher, the PSU president told SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday morning.

The decision to take industrial action was made by the union at a meeting held some days after the amendment was successfully passed in the House of Assembly.

A meeting was also subsequently held with nurses, who fall under the Essential Services Act, where it was decided that these essential workers will withdraw their services on the given dates in September.

Under the Essential Services Act, workers are required to give a minimum of 14 days notice to the Governor General of the intent to withdraw their service.

Boucher said a letter setting out that intent was sent to the Governor General on Monday, August 23.

“We’re going to withdraw services from that period, from [September] 7 to 10…the rest of the public service will also join the nurses in the withdrawal of service…you’d notice that action starts on the 7th which is a holiday,” he pointed out.

“Public servants don’t work on holidays but nurses work on holidays, so any action taken on that day will be taken by those persons who work within the essential services, and particularly those working on shift systems like the nurses, prison officers…” Boucher said this action is due to the government’s refusal to listen and have dialogue with the people, or even consider the approach being taken by other CARICOM countries, where governments have seriously considered their citizen’s opposition to mandatory vaccination.

“It’s a feeling that actually wears you down because when you listen to the Prime Minister speak, even as he speaks regarding nurses, I mean it’s painful, it’s hurtful,” the union leader said. “And if you are a people-centred government, a government who believes in social dialogue, who believes in partnership with a civil society similar to the other governments in Barbados and other OECS governments have been doing, we could have had dialogue and negotiations to see us through this.”

Boucher noted that while nurses and public servants are not against vaccination, they feel as though many have disregarded the reasons why they are hesitant to take the jab.

He said “…Apart from persons who have religious reasons and who might want to exercise their right to conscience, a lot of the nurses, a lot of public servants just wanted to be a bit careful with respect to these vaccines because people are listening, people are reading a lot”.

“They are seeing what is unfolding with respect to these vaccines daily and instead of the government having an understanding and an appreciation for that, it is totally ignored. When you take all of those things in context, you realise that they are putting you in a position where you really have no choice but to fight in defence of your own fundamental rights and freedom. That is where we are at,” Boucher said.

He also noted that the government is seeking to implement a mandatory vaccine policy for essential workers without putting a compensation scheme in place to address possible adverse side effects that may come from it.

This, he said, deviates from recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“They (WHO) say it is not something that they recommend and if you decide for some reason because your country is in a dire state – which we are not because our Ministry of Health, our people who are dealing with the management of COVID [have] been doing an excellent job, and they have things more or less under control. It means that the citizenry has been doing a fantastic job of protecting themselves,” Boucher said.

The next sitting of Parliament is on September 9. Opposition Leader, Dr Godwin Friday has issued a call for persons to join in protest action slated for that day in Kingstown.

Protests have been ongoing in recent months as trade unions, social organisations and supporters of the NDP have gathered in Kingstown to demonstrate against various issues they have identified that are facing the country.

Boucher told SEARCHLIGHT that the PSU intends to meet with the Commissioner of Police next week to have a discussion, as the union’s main goal is to have peaceful demonstrations.

“This is not a matter for the workers alone. It is a matter for the entire country because changes to the Public Health Act affects the entire country…” he said.