Vaccine Mandate poses ‘Catch 22’ Conditions at the Workplace

By Reginald Andrew

There is growing consensus and debate about the future status of employees, globally, as they are faced with options relating to taking the vaccine as a safeguard against the Covid-19 virus.

And while this dilemma poses a sort of ‘Catch 22’ situation, the consequences of these policies may determine the sustainability of an employee’s livelihood in relation to one’s health status.

Labour Minister, Dr. Virginia Albert Poyotte
Labour Minister, Dr. Virginia Albert Poyotte

As a consequence of this latter development, Labour Minister Dr. Virginia Albert Poyotte spoke to the media on the issue, as government seeks to consult stakeholders on the ‘best way forward’ to deal with the matter.

Consequently, the minister said, she has scheduled a meeting with the island’s Labour Commissioner and other key stakeholders, such as representatives from the trade unions and employers’ federation to discuss the situation. She stated that as the world grapples with the Covid-19 crisis, the authorities must also ensure that workers’ rights are protected.

“We will have this social dialogue so that we address these issues and ensure that they are within the confines of the law and the regulations in St Lucia,” noted Dr. Poyotte.

“We have a pandemic on our hands and we have to deal with the situation. However, we do not want the rights of workers violated,” she added.

On the home-front, in Saint Lucia, it has been reported that as vaccine mandates begin to roll out in the workplace, a company recently dismissed 12 workers for failing to take the vaccine.

The minister said the matter calls for all parties concerned to meet and “we will make a pronouncement on the matter.”

Reports state that a recent survey conducted by the St Lucia Chamber of Commerce reveal that at least 65% of responders favour the vaccine mandate. Furthermore, an average of 70% of corporate members of the St Lucia Private Sector Council fully support the vaccine policies.

And so, what’s the government take on this contentious issue?

“Government has not moved in that direction,” Dr. Poyotte replied. “We are seeing our numbers going down and we still believe in persuading St Lucians to do what is right for our own development and for themselves.”

Meanwhile, the Labour Commissioner has disclosed that an employer may have the right to enforce Covid-19 mandates at home or at an establishment. In addition, an employer also has the right to take disciplinary action against workers that fail to comply, taking into account the dire repercussions emanating from this current public health issue.

In its effort to effectively address this issue, the government says it is committed to holding dialogue with representatives from the trade unions and employers’ federation, with the intention of reaching “common ground on vaccinations in the workplace.”

About one week ago, employees of North American Assemblies Ltd. took the employers to task for implementing the vaccine mandate policy at that particular workplace.

The matter was referred to the Union, who are seeking to negotiate on behalf of the affected workers.

President of the Trade Union Federation (TUF) Julian Monrose told reporters that the company has informed employees that if they were not vaccinated by a certain date , they should not return to work since they will be fired.

Last week, a group of former NAAL employees converged at the CSA Centre for dialogue with an industrial relations specialist.

Monrose said the TUF had advised the employees that this was “not in keeping with law and that management could not make such a threat to them, and it was their responsibility to continue to go to work and to work to the best of their abilities.”

He said the workers were dismissed without receiving any termination benefits.

The TUF has vowed to also provide representation for non-unionised workers that may have fallen into difficulty at the workplace during this current Covid-19 crisis.

While the authorities grapple to bring closure to this evolving dilemma, Monrose says, the TUF is open for discussions with the stakeholders to address this unfolding matter.

The TUF president asserted: “We as a federation of workers and workers organisations, we have a responsibility to stand up with the workers.”

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