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Labour Minister tells union leaders to vigorously educate workers on necessity of COVID-19 vaccination

Labour Minister Peter David - reiterates need for persons to get vaccinated against the coronavirus

Unless we (can) significantly reduce vaccine hesitancy, and radically ramp up our current vaccination levels, our economic situation will disintegrate, more jobs would be lost, recovery will be precarious, and even those who are fortunate to have a job may become amongst the unemployed. We cannot allow this to happen.

This was the stark reminder issued by Labour Minister Peter David, during last week Saturday’s annual Labour Day celebrations, amidst strong opposition from the Grenada Trades Union Council (GTUC), to a new “government policy,” mandating COVID-19 vaccination, as a condition of employment within the private sector.

President of the Grenada Hotel and Tourism Association (GHTA), Leo Garbutt has received public support from Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell, who had previously vowed not to pass laws to make vaccination mandatory within the tri-island state of Grenada Carriacou, and Petite Martinique.

Dr. Mitchell has said: “If I have a business, and vaccination is key to protecting my business, I have a right to determine (that) who comes in there is vaccinated, that’s my right. You have a right to not vaccinate, but I have a right also to protect my business. Just as simple as that.”

With COVID-19 vaccination happening at a slower pace than anticipated, the Labour Minister, who has been described as “a man for the people,” used Saturday’s Labour Day event, which commenced with a scaled-down march from the Tempe Playing Field, culminating with a ceremony at the Kirani James Athletics and Football Stadium in St. George, to call out the GTUC, on the “strategic vital, and indispensable role (it has to) play in the fight against COVID-19.”

Pointing to the relevance of the theme chosen to mark the observance of this year’s Labour Day celebrations, “Solidarity and education to protect workers’ rights and benefits amid COVID-19,” Minister David emphasised the “need to vigorously educate our entire population of the necessity to get vaccinated, educate the working people “against anti-science, and conspiracy theories.”

“There ought to be no reservations or timidity, and all parties must cooperate,” he declared.

However, the President of GTUC, Andre Lewis in responding to the government minister said that while the council “accepts that vaccine is one of the tools to help fight against the pandemic,” the government’s approach in politicising the fight against the deadly virus is restraining the vaccination process”.

“If you look at the members of the different committees that are spearheading the fight against Covid-19, it is all party hacks, political supporters, no independent people,” he said, adding that employers should not be allowed to mandate vaccination as a condition for employment.

“Employers cannot mandate existing workers to take the vaccine. This will amount to a unilateral change in the terms and conditions of employment,” he told workers at Queen’s Mark.

“We must commit to a future where we all have access to basic need services such as health or a decent and healthy meal, old age and old age security,” he said.

Sen. Lewis also expressed concern that the government’s disregard for the Collective Bargaining agreement on the payment of 4% salary increases to public officers from January could also result in private sector employers adopting similar approaches.

“This is a signed collective agreement, and the Government has breached it, so, therefore, private sector employers are feeling (that) they can breach their contract of employment of workers by mandating them to take the vaccine.

Related:  Attorney questions government’s support for forced COVID-19 vaccination policy

“Today comrades, we the people of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique are observing May Day while facing and battling two (2) pandemics, COVID-19, and the New National Party (NNP) government pandemic. They are both crippling, and deadly (but) at least, with COVID-19, we can all wear masks, sanitise, and physical distancing, as these (measures), have worked in the fight, but the NNP government pandemic has refused to pay public officers their negotiated salary increases while they boldly take away our 4% increases…we can’t take those things just so. The labour movement must be respected as the voice for the workers.

Also addressing the Labour Day rally was Gicel Blackman-Charles, who delivered remarks on behalf of the Grenada Technical and Allied Workers Union (GTAWU).

Blackman-Charles, who is the current GTAWU Treasurer, issued a “challenge to the New National Party (NNP) administration, to lock out any public officer or teacher, who refuse to take the vaccine.”

“A number of employers have arrived at a place where they are of the view that workers are to be dictated to. They believe workers are chattels. Yes, they believe that we can be sold…well brothers, and sisters, we have now moved from wanting to sell workers to dictating what must go into our bodies.

“…Let it be clear that TAWU understands the fall-out from the pandemic, we are not insensitive to the catastrophic effect of COVID-19. The question we all have to ask ourselves is this – what is the motive for some workplaces making it mandatory for workers to be vaccinated as a condition for work, a condition that unilaterally amends the worker’s contract of employment?

“It is quite clear, that the method used so far to manage the pandemic has worked and is working, that is social distancing, sanitising, wearing of masks and the washing of hands.

“TAWU is saying to employers, that the same energy used to create a safe workplace during this COVID period must continue when the pandemic (is) no longer with us. The employers have been emboldened by the public pronouncements of the New National Party (NNP) administration. It is the Prime Minister who told the private sector that they have a right to decide who to accept on their workplaces, thus supporting mandatory vaccination in the private sector”.

Newly installed President of the Public Workers Union (PWU) Brian Grimes, in making his debut May Day address as leader, pointed out that before the COVID-19 crisis, the government did not place much emphasis on occupational health and safety at the workplace.

Grimes used the opportunity to call on government to “ratify, and legislate in Parliament, an occupational safety and health act to marry to our Labour Code.”

“Occupational health and safety for workers have been at the bottom of the priority list of government (but) today they portray themselves to be the most caring about our health, as this care is tied with restricting our ability to gather, protest and agitate for our rights.

“Oh ye hypocrites,” declared Grimes, who described the Keith Mitchell regime, as the “most anti-worker administration” in the history of the country.

“Our health and safety are not of seasonal importance (but) it’s always important,” he remarked.