By Kadeem Joseph
Workers in the public sector set to be replaced come October 1 if they remain unvaccinated are being warned that their temporary relief from work could become permanent.
The warning came from Prime Minister Gaston Browne who was speaking during Thursday’s sitting of Parliament.
In discussing the country’s fiscal position, Browne noted that the government has been able to successfully restructure the country’s debt without retrenching workers or reducing salaries and wages, even when circumstances necessitated a reduction in staffing by at least 20 percent.
“Now that we have decided to act as a responsible employer to ensure that there is a safe environment in the interest of all, public servants have the gumption to be threatening us and challenging us. Really?” he queried.
“And then some of them telling us that they will withdraw their labour, well guess what, the Cabinet has already taken the decision. Well fine, you withdraw your labour, we are going to put somebody else in your position. This is not a threat but sometimes, temporary becomes permanent.”
He added that the government will not allow any employee or group thereof to hold the country “hostage”.
Last week, the Cabinet announced that all public sector workers in Antigua and Barbuda will be required to be vaccinated for Covid-19 if they are to continue working, making the country one of the first in the region to implement such a mandate.
Since the mandate was announced last week, groups like the Antigua and Barbuda Trade Union Congress the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union and the Antigua Trades and Labour Union, along with the major opposition political parties, the United Progressive Party and the Democratic National Alliance, have voiced their disapproval, calling the move forceful, to say the least.
The Antigua and Barbuda Public Service Association is now challenging the mandate in court.
Browne said, however, the vaccine mandate is yielding results already, while explaining that his administration must act now in the public interest to achieve herd immunity by year’s end.
“From all indications, by the end of today [Thursday] we will have at least 50 percent of the population that would have had their first vaccination and I think that it is a great achievement,” he said.
The PM said the fact that people are now going out in large numbers to get vaccinated should be celebrated.
Cabinet notes released yesterday stated that more than 1,000 adults and youngsters aged 12 to 17 had been turning out to get a jab in the last few days. The latest available statistics state 37,646 people are now fully vaccinated.