Umbrella union requests consultation with PM Browne over vaccination policy

Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne
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By Carlena Knight

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Following an urgent meeting held earlier this week, the Antigua and Barbuda Trade Union Congress (ABTUC) has shared their intent to reach out again to the Prime Minister and Cabinet for consultations over the latest policy involving unvaccinated frontline public sector workers.

This new policy stipulates that unvaccinated workers must be tested twice monthly at their own expense or risk the possibility of being sent home without pay.

Vice President of the ABTUC Esrome Roberts revealed that the union has always been willing and available for consultations and have previously reached out to the PM for such a meeting.

 This initial request, he said, was left unanswered.

“He must not be colourful with the truth because we are ready to engage him and his Cabinet. So, to say yesterday in the papers that we have not reached out to him, we have more than done that. We still stand ready to engage with the government and the policymakers because we realise that this is a real issue,” Roberts said.

He also condemned the recent moves by the government who, instead of meeting with them first, just went ahead and announced the policy.

“Instead of meeting with us for consultation, they have gone ahead and issued letters to some of our affiliates’ membership, namely the Immigration Department and those in Public Works. That is just the start. It may and will transcend to the private sector and we must put a stop to it here and now. We cannot leave this issue unchallenged. We want to send a clarion call to government that we are ready. They can meet us today, tomorrow or any hour; we, as a movement, are ready to have a sit down,” Roberts said.

Roberts said that such a stipulation could have a grave effect on the public sector and the country itself if left unchanged.

“Let’s look at the police force. Let’s look at the nurses. Let’s look at the teachers, all those public services and how much damage that that would do to the economy if those workers are not allowed to perform their duties. Let us look at the impact and that is why we are saying there is a need for consultations because we need to look at the bigger picture if they are willing to continue with these measures. Let us speak. Let’s have a dialogue and look at this thing with a broad scope. We are not opposed to testing and vaccinations but what we are saying there is a method and measure to how things can be done,” he declared.

According to the group, the best way forward is through educational campaigns spearheaded by medical professionals, rather than strong-arming residents into taking vaccines and conducting tests.

General Secretary of the Antigua Trades & Labour Union (AT&LU) Hugh Joseph even questioned just how sustainable testing would be.

He went on to ask why has the government now changed the approach where testing is concerned, as previously, only persons who were showing symptoms were subjected to being tested.

“When we asked why it is there wasn’t more testing being done, we were told there wasn’t any need unless persons show symptoms. Why it is that we are moving away from that all of a sudden?” Joseph queried.

“When you talk about the option that is there, there is really no option at all when you look at it. There is really no choice here. It is either between doing this or making a living so essentially persons are choosing between survival or the vaccine. To me, that is the option on the table,” he added.

The Antigua and Barbuda Trade Union Congress comprises of the AT&LU, the Antigua and Barbuda Public Sector Association (ABPSA), Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU), Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (ABUT), the Nurses Association, Pilots Association, LIAT Engineers, Flight Attendants, Antigua and Barbuda Met Officers Association, the Antigua and Barbuda Hotel Management Association and the Antigua and Barbuda Free Trade Union.

Since its announcement, several unions have made their position clear that they do not agree with such a policy and just this week residents flocked outside the PM’s office protesting the stipulation.

The congress did clarify that, at the moment, they will not be conducting any sort of picket.

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