JTUM after meeting AG: Withdraw vaccine policy on public workers

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Ancel Roget – File photo/ Lincoln Holder

THE labour movement is not anti-vaccine but said the Prime Minister must immediately withdraw his threat to furlough unvaccinated workers in the public service, OWTU head Ancel Roget declared on Wednesday.

Roget hosted a virtual news conference with other Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) union leaders, including Clyde Elder and Letitia Cox, minutes after a virtual meeting with Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.

However, Al-Rawi later told Newsday of a lack of specifics by Roget.

With soaring covid19 cases, of about 20-30 deaths daily and 500-600 new infections during the festive season, Dr Rowley on Saturday gave public servants a January 15 deadline to get vaccinated unless medically exempted. He said it was not a vaccine mandate but a move to convert government spaces into safe zones.

Roget twice said that he himself has been vaccinated, even as the labour movement supported vaccination but not vaccine mandates.

“We are encouraging our members to be vaccinated. But we are pro-choice.” He said it is a person’s choice not to take the vaccine.

Roget accused Rowley of bullying and fear tactics and a “unilateral, high-handed, dictatorial” approach in his vaccine policy, amid an alleged “galloping dictatorship” which could erode civil rights.

“I myself took the vaccine, I myself believe in the science. But I believe it is the right of any individual to accept or reject and that belief is shared across the board by all members of JTUM.”

Roget dismissed the JTUM-AG meeting as a sham to help the Government look good.

He said JTUM had told the AG it wished for the eradication of the coronavirus.

However he said the PM’s statement was an alleged unilateral breaking of workers’ terms and conditions of employment.

“If the outcome is to encourage more people to be vaccinated, you are going about it the wrong way.

“If you are to engage us in those discussions going forward, you ought to withdraw that unilateral position that was announced by the Prime Minister.”

He said some workers may suffer adverse effects from vaccination or have fears.

Roget again urged the immediate retraction of the PM’s statement.

Asked if a public health emergency could allow the alteration of workers contracted terms and conditions, he said there must be a process involving discussion and possible site-specific arrangements. He urged Rowley to observe how Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley had treated with a similar matter.

Roget said he hoped all could work day and night to increase vaccination rates.

Al-Rawi told Newsday he had met JTUM and afterwards associations from the protective services, and he reported on Roget’s stance.

“He gave the Government two conditions precedent. One, that we withdraw the Prime Minister’s announcement, Two, that we are to provide him with empirical evidence that the vaccination will stop someone from contracting covid and will also stop covid infection, failing which they will not support the non-voluntary use of vaccines.”

The AG said he had asked JTUM for any submissions and their timeframe for discussions.

“He said we just have to start from basics and we just have to get into discussion.

“He did not commit to a timeframe, nor would he provide any details of what any recommendations would look like.”

The AG said Roget was not talking unless his two pre-conditions were met.

“I indicated to him the second condition precedent is not something that anybody in the world can provide, and that is well-known.” However he said Roget was insistent on that.

“I said I was concerned that the viral infection with the omicron strain was doubling every two and a half days and time is not a luxurious one. I urged him to get a better understanding of the timeframe and his submissions.”

Al-Rawi said Roget spoke of a lack of trust in data, but the AG in turn asked if Roget didn’t have confidence in public health officials under Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram to deliver data.

The AG said Roget said he wanted to focus on the fact he didn’t trust Rowley and other ministers.

Al-Rawi concluded, “I told him I will get my instructions based upon his submissions and I thanked him for the opportunity to speak to him, as they had convened themselves at very little notice.

“I was very grateful for his attendance.”