By Kadeem Joseph
The government’s vaccine mandate, which could see employees in the public service, statutory corporations and companies in which the government owns majority shares, without at least the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine remaining home without pay as of October 1, is being met with a legal challenge by one of the country’s major unions.
News of an injunction that was filed on behalf of the Antigua and Barbuda Public Service Association (ABPSA) by attorney Warren Cassell was circulated early Thursday morning.
A press release from the association indicated that the body is petitioning the court for judicial review of the government’s policy and amendments to the Public Health Act (Dangerous Infectious Disease) Regulations, claiming that the changes are unreasonable, irrational and disproportionate amongst others reasons.
The association is also seeking a stay of the policy and amendment, pending the final determination of the issue by the High Court.
Joan Peters, who is the President of the ABPSA, said the body is hoping that the government will reconsider.
“We are hoping that the government will rethink its position and not displace public servants, and act in good faith, because up to now they haven’t had a proper discussion with [any of the unions],” she said.
“They are asking for a meeting, but policies are coming out before the meeting, and that kind of thing, they are not acting in good faith and that is the union’s problem.”
The petition was filed in the court on Wednesday, and the release from the ABPSA further stated that the court is expected to hear the application for leave forthwith, in accordance with the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court’s civil procedures rules.
Meanwhile, the ABPSA president is also questioning the intent of the government to hire temporary employees to fill critical positions that are held by unvaccinated workers who do not meet the October 1 deadline.
“In some areas, how are you going to employ temporary workers? Some of these workers’ work is technical work, so you’re just going to take up anybody and tell them, move this paper from here and put them there?” Peters queried.
Peters also encourages the membership of the ABPSA not to be fearful, noting that members expect their union to fight against their rights being trampled upon.
She is also adamant that the union is not against efforts to boost vaccinations or Covid-19 protocols, but there was a “legitimate expectation” for discussions, consultations and agreement ahead of any changes that would affect members.
On Wednesday, the Antigua Trades and Labour Union also indicated plans to take the issue of the mandate to court, a decision that has raised the ire of Prime Minister Gaston Browne who publicly chided the body during Thursday’s sitting of Parliament.