Antigua trade union tells members stay home on Monday, PM reactsSaturday, September 18, 2021
ST JOHN'S, Antigua (CMC) – Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, has told the Antigua and Barbuda Trade Workers Trade Union (ABWTU) that it has recourse to the courts, if it believes his administration had infringed upon the rights of its members through its vaccination policy aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic here.
“What does the union expect to achieve by this? Section 70 of the Constitution gives unto the Cabinet the general control and direction of government and makes Cabinet responsible to Parliament,” Browne said in a statement, in response to a call by the ABWTU to its members to stay home on Monday to protest the policy.
Government earlier this week announced that it has given a September 20 deadline, for all unvaccinated public sector workers to show proof of having been vaccinated against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
A policy document released Wednesday night, also outlines similar measures for people operating public transport, the trade union movement, private sector employees as well as arriving passengers into the country.
In the policy statement, the government said that the measure regarding vaccinations will include workers in the public service, statutory corporations and companies in which the government owns majority shares.
It said that with effect from October 1, all unvaccinated public sector employees, inclusive of Statutory Corporations and companies of which the government holds majority shares shall be required to remain at home until proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
In addition, those workers “shall be paid a salary or wage for the period of non-compliance with the current policy” and that all officers and support staff of the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda and the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force are required to be vaccinated, effective October 1.
But in a statement, the ABWTU said in keeping with the decision of the Antigua and Barbuda Trade Union Congress, it is advising its membership within the various statutory corporations and companies with government majority share ownership that they are encouraged to remain at home on Monday.
“This collective action is in response to the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda's decision on mandatory vaccination of public service employees, statutory corporations and Companies in which the government has majority shares by October 1st, 2021,” the trade union said.
The ABWTU said that it understands the health risk faced by the COVID-19 pandemic, “however, we do not support the decision of mandatory vaccination.
“Employees have the right to choose what is entered into their bodies. The union continues to encourage its membership to be vaccinated and advocates for a stronger education programme on the importance of vaccination.”
The ABWTU said that it further supports COVID-19 testing for employees, vaccinated and unvaccinated, at the expense of the employer, adding that it will continue to review and assess the situation and advise membership accordingly.
But in response, Prime Minister Browne the Antigua and Barbuda Constitution “acknowledges that the public interest trumps individual rights.
“It is a sacred and constitutionally based responsibility held by the Executive (Cabinet) to determine what is in the best interest of the public. It is in exercising this responsibility that Cabinet decisions are made.
“The Court exists for a reason. If the union thinks the rights of its membership are being infringed upon then it can seek redress from the court,” Browne said, before adding, “we compromise the very system upon which our democracy is built when we seek to subvert that which exists for our own benefit and protection.
“I hasten to add that Cabinet decisions are only reviewable by the Court in limited circumstances and only on the basis that the decision is procedurally irregular, irrational or illegal. If the union feels it can satisfy any of these thresholds, move the Court! Chaos and disharmony will get us nowhere,” he added.