One of my compères, who hails from the south-west peninsula and who has retained the good sense rooted in many areas of our country, was dismayed at the outset by the approach of the government when the Prime Minister declared Government’s intention to make vaccination a requirement for persons employed in the Public Service and Public Sector by mid-January.
My compère labelled the approach as one of ‘confusion and confrontation without conclusion’. He did so on 23 December, while commenting on a morning television interview I had done that day.
It seemed to me that a basic mistake of the government was in announcing a proposal for a vaccine deadline of mid-January for public sector employees, without putting out the draft legislation to the recognised majority trade unions for consultation—consistent with good industrial relations practices, as required by the Industrial Relations Act and elucidated by the Industrial Court in many decades of decisions.
Comment on draft legislation from the groups of employers and employees, wider than the cadre of recognised majority unions, should also have been invited if the government knew what it was doing from an industrial relations perspective.
However, can the government have a full grasp of what it is doing if it has excluded the Minister of Labour and the professionals in his ministry from a role in the mission? Ironically, the Minister of Labour represents a constituency in the south-west peninsula.
I have expressed increasing concern about the stability of our country, particularly as we have some unfortunate history when resistance has developed into unpalatable events.
To use one of Lloyd Best’s favourite words, the government has ‘chinksed’. We still have no draft legislation. There is still no reference to what will be the necessary amendments to the Industrial Relations Act and the deadline has been postponed for another month.
The government has created a vacuum and an opportunity for those opposed to vaccination to become the catalyst for an explosion of other grievances and deprivations hurting a pandemic-weary population.
To make matters worse, we have already reached to tear-gassing a ‘push back’ gathering, creating an additional catalyst for discontent. The response of the Acting Commissioner of Police that ‘missiles’ were thrown at his officers seems factually thin, given the proliferation of videos from smart phones taken by the persons present, who were ultimately subjected to the tear gas.
My compère, who also has some professional knowledge of the use of tear gas, advised me that it is not used ‘unless your troops are in immediate danger of life and death’. Dressed as the police were in their tactical gear, even a busshead from a bottle or stone seemed remote.
The Savannah and its busy precincts are in constant use by citizens who do not deserve to be gassed ‘jus’ so’. Not surprisingly, children were victims of the use of the tear gas.
Was there any warning before firing? In the infamous words of a former prime minister—for which he never apologised when a young woman was gunned down outside MovieTowne—are these children and, even those passing by at the wrong time, to be disregarded as ‘collateral damage’?
Party faithful will attack as ‘anti-government’ any careful reflection on an incident which could take us down some very unpleasant roads. However, the unblinkered will consider what another month-long delay, after a false start to the vaccination programme, portends and the sensitivity of the responses required.
My thoughts turned to 1972 when a packed crowd—uncertain whether iconic Brazil football star Pelé and his club team, who were late arriving at the Queen’s Park Oval to play a game against our national team, would really turn up—began to pelt bottles and tear gas was deployed with chaotic results.
It was reported that one man died and more than 20 men, women and children were treated in hospital for injuries.
As the confusion reigns over how the public sector vaccine requirement is to be managed and confrontation has already escalated beyond the verbal variety, please let’s think again.
Straight talk on what vaccination requirement is intended and sober reflection on how protest is to be managed in these volatile times are urgently required.