New Public Services Association (PSA) president Leroy Baptiste made his first public statement today, three days after taking office, and it was a call for workers to ‘reject outright the Government’s coercive attempt to force vaccination on the citizenry’.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced on 18 December that, to continue to be paid from the middle of January 2022, all public servants and public sector workers must be vaccinated and work in what has since been referred to as a ‘quasi-safe zone’.
On 31 December 2021, acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Public Administration Claudelle McKellar issued a circular memorandum which mandated each Ministry/Department/Agency (MDA) in the country to provide ‘the vaccination status of their organisations (number of persons vaccinated and number of persons not vaccinated) on or before 4 January 2022’.
Thus far, the Public Service and Public Sector Vaccination Programme, spearheaded by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, has not revealed the legal basis for its request to workers.
However, Al-Rawi said the new law would not require a special majority, sparking suggestions that the Government would try to enforce the changes through an adjustment to the Public Health Ordinance.
Baptiste insisted that the circular from the Ministry of Public Administration is ‘illegal’ and advised public officers that they are ‘under no legal compulsion’ to provide their vaccination status on request by their employers.
“The PSA stands in solidarity with all our members, regardless of your vaccination status, which has nothing to do with your right to gainful employment and to make a living,” said Baptiste. “Any attempt to unilaterally alter public officers’ terms and conditions of employment in a bid to force them to vaccinate is wrong, harsh, oppressive and contrary to law.
“[…] We therefore call upon all public officers to reject outright the Government’s coercive attempt to force vaccination on the citizenry. It remains your God-given right to choose.”
Baptiste, who last month replaced Tobago House of Assembly (THA) deputy chief secretary Watson Duke at the helm of the PSA, criticised the Government’s lack of consultation with the trade unions and urged a rethink of their current position.
“The major problem we have with all of this is that, as the recognised majority union, where the workers are concerned about anything, it is supposed to be manifested to us first,” said the PSA president. “It is absolutely disrespectful for the recognised union to have to hear about a policy that is aimed at terms and conditions of workers, our members, on TV.
“We call upon the Government to engage the trade union in a meaningful way to solve the nation’s problems.”
Baptiste suggested vaccination was not the only measure available to the Government to ‘take down the rate of hospitalisation’ and pointed to workplace sanitisation and physical distancing.
He insisted that the PSA, which claims to represent over 80,000 workers, is ‘prepared to utilise all its resources to defend the rights of workers against an unfair and unjust working arrangement that has been instituted by the Government’.
At present, according to the Ministry of Health, there are 15,345 active positive cases of Covid-19, while there are 637 new cases and 15 deaths reported over the last 24 hours.
There have been 2,951 deaths in the two-island republic since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020—158 of the deceased were fully vaccinated while 2,793 were unvaccinated.
Before 24 May 2021 when the country had its first group of fully vaccinated persons, Trinidad and Tobago had 390 deaths. At present, roughly 47% of the Trinidad and Tobago population is vaccinated.