GO TO WORK: JTUM head Ancel Roget, centre, speaks to reporters outside the Office of the Attorney General in Port of Spain on Tuesday. PHOTO BY SUREASH CHOLAI –
PRESIDENT general of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) Ancel Roget is calling on vaccinated and unvaccinated workers to report for work as normal even as policies are being worked on to make the public service and all Government offices safe zones where only vaccinated workers will be allowed to work.
Speaking on the steps of the Office of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs on Richmond Street, Port of Spain, on Tuesday, Roget and other union leaders reaffirmed their stance against mandatory vaccination for public servants.
Later on Tuesday, the Public Services Association (PSA) held a press conference where they also voiced opposition to mandatory vaccinations (see story below), while the National Health Workers Union was also opposed to the vaccine mandate for government workers. (See Page 8)
Roget was flanked by the representatives of the TT Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA), the Seaman and Waterfront Workers Union (SWWTU), the Bankers, Insurance and General Workers Union (BIGWU), the TT Postal Workers Union, the Registered Nurses Association, the Fire Officers Association and the Steel Workers Union of TT (SWUTT).
He accused Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi of not holding enough consultations with trade unions before finalising workplace policies.
A memorandum from the Ministry of Public Administration on Monday reported that under the government’s policy, the public sector would operate as a “quasi safe zone” as of January 17, where the operation of organisations within the public sector (ministries, departments, agencies, authorities, corporations and companies) are to be conducted only by employees providing proof of vaccination or having the appropriate vaccination exemption.
Roget argued that companies refusing entry to unvaccinated employees would qualify as a breach of industrial relations and he told unvaccinated workers to show up for work as normal.
“Let them deny you entry into your place of work, and that will be tantamount to illegal lockout. The trade union movement and our legal team are waiting to deal with those issues.
“Do not set up yourselves by staying at home. Present yourselves to work.
“You are engaged currently under certain terms and conditions of employment and therefore that has not been renegotiated by your union and therefore you should go to work on the 17th (of January) and continue. Let the government lock you out from your place of employment,” Roget said.
Referring to memos that were issued by the Maintenance Training and Security (MTS) Company Ltd and the T&T Electricity Commission (T&TEC) requesting vaccine information, Roget described both entities as “runaway horses” where a vaccine mandate was being introduced despite calls for dialogue.
He said any legislation requiring employees to provide proof of vaccination would interfere with other laws, including the Industrial Relations Act, the Retrenchment, Severance and Benefits Act, the Data Protection Act and the OSH Act, all of which guarantees certain provisions to a worker.
He also asked workers not to give their vaccination status to their employers, as this could further empower management to take measures against them.
He said while JTUM is open to discussion with the government on a way forward, it was up to the government to remove memos requiring workers to present their vaccination cards.
General secretary of the NATUC Michael Annisette criticised the Prime Minister and Attorney General for acting outside their remit by instructing public servants to take the vaccine. He described this as undemocratic.
“When a government can have a policy without engaging the unions and by extension the workers affected by that policy, we know we are on a dictatorial train. There is no excuse. That is undemocratic, and that behaviour has no place in a democracy,” Annisette said.
“When a prime minister can hold a press conference and tell public servants to take seven days, we know we are in a mad place, because while the Prime Minister is the leader, he is not the head of the public service and therefore his action was illegal,” Annisette said.
In December representatives from different associations of the police, prison and fire services held an emergency meeting and released a letter expressing their opposition to any public service vaccine mandate.
Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, head of the Fire Officers Association Leo Ramkissoon said that frontline workers were once praised for their efforts but were now being threatened if they did not conform to the government’s policies.
“I want to say on behalf of the fire officers in TT, we are real human beings, we are emergency workers and we have been on the frontline.
“We are the ones alongside the other protective services who would have been applauded and now we’re being threatened with a loss of salaries if we don’t comply.”