Labour representative in the Upper House of Parliament, Sen. Andre Lewis has called on St. George’s University (SGU) to pay off those workers who have been unemployed since June last year for their years of service because they refused to adhere to its government-supported Covid-19 vaccination programme.
Sen. Lewis raised the issue while contributing to the debate on a resolution to amend the SGU/Government of Grenada Charter agreement, to give legal teeth to the newly negotiated terms, which includes access to over US$30 million, and increased scholarships, among other benefits to the country.
The President-General of the Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU) noted that in moving the resolution before the House, the Leader of Government Business, Sen. Simon Stiell took time to commend the success of SGU’s vaccination programme in the fight against COVID but omitted to highlight that “there are a number of workers at SGU who are not being allowed to report to their work to perform their jobs and as such, they are home without any income.”
Sen. Lewis said that while he identifies with the numerous ways that SGU has assisted the development of the country over the years, and during the pandemic, with sourcing PPE and other equipment for healthcare, as well as frontline workers, and most recently access to a PCR testing lab “we must deal with all the positives and negatives.”
“SGU, in its fight to keep its place safe, have indicated that the workers would not be allowed to come to the compound, the workers are saying pay me for my years of services…and they continue to lavish.
Psychologically, emotionally, it is troubling, and it is through no fault of theirs, and therefore we the Labour Movement are demanding that the workers be paid for their years of service and not only SGU but any workplaces that have sent workers home,” he told the sitting.
The Labour Senator declared: “As we speak these workers who have not been allowed to come to the compound to perform their jobs have not been paid for their annual vacation leave and that is all part of the fight (against) COVID that the Leader of Government Business indicated.
So, we are bringing this to the attention that we must look at both sides of the coin because as we praise the university, and they must be praised for the tremendous contribution that it has made and continues to make, we must look at both sides of the coin,” he said.
Sen. Lewis informed the House of his calculation that “it would not cost SGU as much as EC$2 million to pay off the workers for their years of service.”
However, the Labour Senator was interrupted by President of the Senate and former trade unionist, Chester Humphrey who drew to his attention Standing Order 37 of the Rules” as a reminder that “what is before us is a resolution to deal with making certain amendments to the Charter and the Act,” and not an issue touching on industrial relations.
“I think quite appropriately that could be dealt with by a motion brought by your good self to that effect,” President Humphrey told Sen. Lewis who took over from him as TAWU boss.
Sen. Lewis responded by contending that he is “not addressing an industrial matter but the impact of (SGU’s) vaccination programme.”
“One of the hallmarks of the vaccination programme that the Leader of Government Business did not highlight, and I am highlighting is the impact on the workers who have not taken the vaccine…and I thought it important to highlight the other implications of that programme,” he told the Upper House.
Sen. Stiell who had earlier advocated for other businesses to take a page from the success of SGU’s vaccine mandate in the fight against COVID, as this would accelerate economic activity, responded by calling on the Labour Movement to take their own initiatives in solidarity with affected members at this time.
“In terms of a handful of your members, who it is their choice, their right not to be vaccinated, not to follow the vast majority of persons associated with the university and the university demonstrating that they take their responsibilities with regard to due care and providing a safe working environment for their employees, which is something to be applauded…but I would like to hear from you as their labour representative – what are you doing to provide support for your members who find themselves in this unfortunate position, and showing your solidarity to those members through your pocket rather than suggesting how other institutions should take on that financial responsibility.
“This (SGU) is a private entity, and it is not for us to speak to that (issue) but you certainly have a voice in terms of how you provide support for your members who take particular positions that are contrary to what is actually in the best interest of an employer of that institution of an area of such important economic value to us,” Sen.Stiell remarked.
TAWU has been under fire from the affected workers who hold strongly to the view that the union has been adequately addressing the issue of the university locking them out of the workplace.