James Lambert. File photo/Sureash Cholai
NATUC General Secretary James Lambert said if proper consultation on the issue of mandatory vaccination does not take place by mid-January, the union will take further action against the government.
He called on the Attorney General to hold proper consultations with trade unions on the Prime Minister’s announcement that public servants who are not vaccinated by mid-January will be sent on furlough. The Attorney General said on Tuesday only those with medical exemptions would be exempt from what the unions are calling a vaccine mandate.
Speaking at a virtual media briefing, Lambert said the organisation and its affiliated unions did not attend the meeting scheduled with the Attorney General for Wednesday because it had been called too quickly.
“We have taken a conscientious decision that all the affiliates of NATUC, under the guise of consultation by the Attorney General – we are not attending the meeting. We are saying, give us something proper, give us a few days, let us look at it with our legal minds.
“We are not objecting to it in its totality, of meeting with the agents of the Attorney General or the government or the Prime Minister, but we are not accepting last night for today. We are not dogs, we are not animals, we have a well-constituted organisation, and we will operate within the framework of our organisation.”
Lambert also said he was appalled at the disrespect meted out to trade union leaders when they went to meet with the Prime Minister on Wednesday morning.
“We had to go down Serpentine Road and go through the carpark: you could no longer pass through the front entrance to Whitehall, as we have been doing over the years. And the most disrespectful (thing was), when the secretary went to deliver the letter, after speaking to the police, a messenger came to take the letter that was delivered. This is the most distasteful, dictatorial – even in the days of empires we never had such a thing in TT.”
Lambert said while the unions are aware that something has to be done about the surge of covid19 cases and deaths, the government has gone about the situation the wrong way.
“You have to remember that the workers that have organised with the various trade unions have a collective agreement that governs the terms and conditions of their employment, and while I’m saying that the Cabinet and the executive of TT and the government supersedes the collective agreement, that is something to be considered, to be disciplined. And we are of the view that some sort of consultation should be taking place.”
He said the measure is the latest of a series of attacks the government has made against the unions since 2015, including non-payment of backpay and stopping negotiations, filling vacancies and recruiting public-sector workers.
“The government is the largest employer in TT. Is it that you are targeting workers who are employed in the public sector? Is it that we are the ones spreading this pandemic virus only, that is government workers who will spread it, so you are saying that you speak about safe zone?
“They are interfering with the daily life of workers, as the Prime Minister intimated to the nation that you will be sent home, you will be debarred from the workplace if you fail to take the vaccine, you will remain on the establishment, but won’t receive any pay.
He said they wanted the PM and the government to be aware there was a process.
“While the government is responsible for the citizens of TT, the trade union movement plays a pivotal role as it relates to the thousands of workers we represent. It is the same public servants who have to carry out mandates of the government, and you should treat them with respect.
“Dr Rowley, you and your government are destroying the families of TT with that measure that you want to initiate on January 17, 2022. We are asking you to reconsider your position and consult with the trade unions on proper agreements pertaining to these vaccinations.”
Representatives of the Public Services Association, the Transport and Industrial Workers Union and the Contractors and General Workers Trade Union called on their members to be ready to turn out in their numbers to support their leaders.
NATUC members: All Trinidad Sugar and General Workers’ Trade Union, Amalgamated Workers Union, Aviation, Communication and Allied Workers Union, Banking, Insurance and General Workers Union, Communication, Transport and General Workers Union, Contractors and General Workers Trade Union, Customs and Excise Extra Guards Association, Electronic Media Union, Emperor Valley Zoo Staff Association, National Petroleum Staff Association, National Union of Domestic Employees, National Union of Government and Federated Workers. Oilfield Workers Trade Union, Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union, Steel Workers Union, Transport and Industrial Workers Union, TT Postal Workers Union, and Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association.