By Latrishka Thomas
The apparent disaccord between the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) led government and the Antigua and Barbuda Trades and Labour Union (AT&LU) has heightened with Prime Minister Gaston Browne explicitly stating that President of the union Wigley George and General Secretary Hugh Joseph “must go”.
The antagonism between the once aligned groups comes in light of a press release dated September 21 where the AT&LU said that it “has received legal counsel and has commenced the process to challenge the government’s mandatory vaccination policy”.
In response, Browne – while speaking in Parliament yesterday – threatened to “wheel out” the leadership of the union because they have sought legal action against the government’s vaccine mandate – an act which Browne claims is “irresponsible”.
Despite other unions including the Public Service Association (ABPSA) taking the same position, Browne said he is particularly infuriated with the AT&LU because it is aligned to the ABLP and “ought to know better”.
“I know the ABPSA, they are taking action, the AT&LU, which incidentally should be aligned to the labour party, and I have said to them that that institution is in need of leadership,” he said.
“They have now become unfit for leadership and I have said to the executive as well that by next convention make sure they wheel out all of them. Get new leadership. Wigley George, all of them, totally unfit,” he stated.
“I have no problem with the others but when I look at the union that aligned to our party from its inception and they are gonna take that kind of irresponsible action. If they are right, fine. And I am saying here from Wigley George right down, they need to go,” he added.
The Prime Minister then interposed that the AT&LU is the “first union in this country that fought for the upliftment of the people in Antigua and Barbuda, that took the people of Antigua and Barbuda out of abject poverty”.
“You are telling me now that the same union gonna take a position to expose its members to hospitalisation and deaths?” he queried rhetorically.
The ABLP leader went on to attribute several vaccine misconceptions aired in the public space to Joseph.
He then insisted that the party “will make that change” indicating that “the centre power in the AT&LU lies within the Antigua Labour Party and we can effect that change”.
“We can’t say that about the ABWU but that change will be effected mark my word. And there is no way that they can split this movement between the AT&LU and the ABLP. We are inextricably linked,” he further asserted.
George and Joseph have been approached for comment.
Meanwhile, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) – an umbrella body for local unions – has hit out at Browne’s comments, dubbing them a “vicious attack”, particularly on the AT&LU.
“The Prime Minister seems to forget that the very reason he and his colleagues are in Parliament, along with his achievements, was on the sweat and tears of the trade union movement,” a statement said.
“He must remember he is a beneficiary of the work of the trade union movement while being a former employee in the banking sector. It is workers who vote governments into power and remove them from power.”
The statement continued that unions have a mandate to “defend and protect” the rights of their members.
“It would appear that the Prime Minister would love to see a society without unions or a society in which government controls unions. This will never happen,” the TUC vowed.
The statement ended with a pledge of “full support” for fellow unionists.