By Orville Williams
The Antigua Trades & Labour Union (AT&LU) says it will proceed with legal action over the government’s mandatory Covid-19 vaccination policy, despite criticism from Prime Minister Gaston Browne.
“The executive has decided to move forward with that legal action, so we will be having further consultations with legal counsel,” AT&LU General Secretary, Hugh Joseph, told Observer yesterday.
The AT&LU declared last week that it had “received legal counsel and has commenced the process to challenge the government’s mandatory vaccination policy”.
It further advised the unvaccinated employees to remain at home, warning that those who insist on entering their workplaces would be in breach of the Public Health Act, and stating that “the results of the legal action … will be made known by or before September 30”.
With just two days to go until the ‘second phase’ of the vaccine mandate comes into effect – the government withholding the salary of unvaccinated employees beginning October 1 – Joseph says they have to maintain course, simply based on the history of the union.
“The fundamental principles of the union would be breached if we were not prepared to stand up and challenge something of this nature. That is what the union is about; that is why the union was started way back in 1939, because we had workers [facing] conditions similar to what are existing now.
“They did not have a choice, they were just being given things and told that ‘that is what it is’…those conditions are what gave birth to the union, so we have our work to do to make the lives of people better,” he declared.
Joseph also dismissed comments that PM Browne made in Parliament last week, questioning the leadership of the union – in regard to their response to the vaccination policy – and his public statements on vaccinations.
The General Secretary labelled the comments “distractions” and declared that they will not derail his drive to defend the right of the union’s membership.
“As it relates to the Prime Minister’s remarks in Parliament…what was said in Parliament was no surprise to me, in particular, because these are things that have been said in meetings that we have attempted to have with [PM Browne].
“He made it clear in the last meeting that we had, that he would have done exactly what he did, which was to go public and dirty the names of myself and other officers, to tell the people that we’re not doing any work.
“Those things don’t really distract me from the work that I have to do for and on behalf of the people.”
Joseph also urged the public to adopt a similar mindset in regard to the accusations made against the leadership and, by extension, the union, assuring that they are taking a holistic approach in helping their members to make the right decisions.
“Let us not get distracted by those who are saying the union is against vaccinations; we have recognised the importance of what is happening around us. We were [at least] one of the first unions to host a forum, [allowing] our membership to be educated on the matter from a legal, medical and even a naturopathic perspective.
“That is what the union has always been about, making people’s lives better, not just to negotiate terms and conditions.”
Joseph also advised that the AT&LU would be hosting another forum today, with doctors and a Covid-19 survivor set to further speak to their membership on the topic of vaccinations.