It is not about anyone losing their job, PM tells Port workers
“We are going to have a conversation concerning the requirement that particular categories of workers including those at the Port Authority, and those at Customs are to be vaccinated by Friday 19 November,” is how Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves started his presentation at a meeting last Tuesday November 16 with workers of the St Vincent and the Grenadines(SVG) Port Authority.
“It is not … emphatically not, about anybody losing his or her job. The requirements put the burden on you to make a choice. This is not about politics, it is about health. It is about the society, and about security,” he continued at the start of the near two hour meeting.
“If people had been listening we might have been at a stage where the country is at 80 percent, 90 percent vaccinated, and if you have that you would not need any requirements for any specific job.”
The meeting was convened so the prime minister could speak directly to the workers, and they in turn could make their concerns known to him. Gonsalves told the workers that they are considered to be frontline workers the same as those at the Customs, and that public servants do have a 10-day grace period as stated in the Regulations.
“You the workers at the Port are considered to be important frontline workers.
“By definition the starting point of those employees is a requirement to be vaccinated, but this requirement rule lasts only as long as the public health emergency lasts, and there was a declaration last year of a public health emergency under the relevant Act,” Gonsalves explained.
“These regulations I will tell you what they are about, and what they are not about. These regulations are about lives, and livelihoods.
They are about making sure that we act as soon as possible and return to normalcy the health, the economy, the society including education and security, and we resume a level of buoyancy and normalcy.”
Gonsalves lamented that there are persons who do not look at the issues at hand, and bring in politics, “but it is plain for everybody to see that the name of the virus is not Ralph-cavirus, it is coronavirus, and there is no vaccine name Ralph-vaccine.”
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines health authorities have made available to the public three different vaccines from which to choose, namely Sputnik V, AstroZeneca, and Pfizer.
Gonsalves said, “Significant numbers of our people because of Covid have suffered loss of jobs, loss of income, and a fall in living standards. But there is a group of persons whom this government and this prime minister have sought to make sure that have always been protected. That group is a group known as public servants”.
“You have not missed your cheque one single month. I have not laid off anybody because of Covid, and I have brought on persons for the short term to help out in the situation. Central Government employees and those in the state sector have become virtually an aristocracy of labour at the time of Covid and at the time of the volcanic eruption,” the prime minister said.
With the November 19, 2021 deadline already here Gonsalves told the assembled port workers: “I do not think there is any rational reason why, if you are unsuitable on medical grounds for you not to take the vaccine. I won’t deal with conspiracy theories. I deal with mainstream scientists who advise governments and the international community”.
“You can always find some side show that you wish to entertain. As a serious person you cannot make your decision based on side shows. You have to make them on science, on facts, and the scientific facts,” he went on.
“The vaccine is the best tool in the tool box, to fight COVID-19. The vaccines are available free. The facts on the ground tell us that of the 72 deaths we have had every single one of them who died from Covid the person was not vaccinated.”
Speaking of the Covid patients housed at the Argyle Isolation Facility and the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital, Gonsalves said: “Almost 100 percent of those who are hospitalised because of Covid are unvaccinated, and these facts are reflected across the world and accepted by 193 governments in the world.
“They have all accepted that the Covid vaccine is the best tool in the toolbox. The World Health Organisation, the Pan American Health Organisation and other national regulatory health agencies of every single member state of the United Nations has come to the same conclusion about the vaccine. I will accept the word of the scientists and the epidemiologists.”
He went on to state that, “Everyone in this room is my neighbour, and I have to love my neighbour as I love myself and my country, which I love very much. Last year when many wanted me to lock down and take away persons rights and freedoms, I resisted all that. I said that I will not use the law as a sword against the community, I will always use the law as a shield.”
As the government prepared to take steps to resume certain activities, public servants were asked to get vaccinated or do a PCR test every two weeks. The public sector unions pushed back with protests saying that the test is invasive, using the slogan, “my body my choice.”
According to Gonsalves, that slogan was “the language of the absolutist abortionists and advocates. Are you a society of one? It is best you to do things for your fellow men and women to help the economy and society and security.”
He pointed out that the economic impact has been felt by every sector and “We cannot escape the fact that since March 11 last year that there has been immense disruptions and dislocations. We also know that last year the economy contracted by 3.1%. This year because of the Covid and the volcano, it is projected to contract by 6.8%.”
The long-serving prime minister also mentioned the second largest capital project in SVG, the construction of a new port that he expects to have a huge impact on the socio-economic lives of port workers.
“The new port development project will help transform your lives and the lives of the people of this country,” he said.