As the topic of mandatory vaccination is being discussed, a clear path is yet to be determined for employers and employees in keeping with their rights under the Constitution.
The talk of mandatory vaccination came to the fore as health officials have been complaining that not many Grenadians are voluntarily coming forward to be vaccinated, including front line workers. Government advances that vaccination is the way for the country to get back to a state of normalcy, more so, for the tourism sector to rebound.
Also, Government has been saying that it will not pass laws to force anyone to be vaccinated while at the same time saying that employers too, have rights regarding the operation of their businesses.
Lydon Lewis, Executive Director of the Grenada Employers Federation, which seeks the interest of employers in industrial matters, told The Grenadian Voice that this issue has not yet been discussed with members and so it does not have an official position on the matter. However, it promised that the topic will be discussed in future.
Last week, the Grenada Trades Union Council (GTUC), the umbrella body of trade unions representing workers, met to discuss this issue but is yet to develop a position on it.
Secretary of the GTUC, Bert Patterson, who was a panelist on a recent programme “A National Conversation on Vaccination,” admitted that this topic is new, and so various bodies from which the Council has sought guidance, have been shying away from the issue.
He said while the Constitution gives individuals the right to not take the vaccine if he or she chooses, “there are conditions under which liberties like that can be taken away in times of crisis, this may be one of them.”
As it relates to an employee being dismissed if he/she refuses to be vaccinated, Patterson said no, adding that “It may mean as one employer has said, you cannot enter my premises as an employer has some right to say what persons can and cannot do at the workplace.”
There has been reports of workplaces, especially within the Tourism and Hospitality sector, giving workers an ultimatum to be vaccinated or be terminated.
Noting that force brings resistance, Patterson suggested the possibility that individuals are opting not to be vaccinated based on how it is being presented to them by employers. He added that COVID-19 has adversely impacted workers, resulting in mistrust of government and employer.
The GTUC Secretary said the issue of dismissal on the premise of not being vaccinated is technical and is being discussed. He shared that the GTUC has tried getting answers from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and local lawyers but “Those questions are not clearly answered because they are new questions and all the think tanks are working overtime on them.”
Speaking to the power of Government under the Constitution, Patterson said he found “there are four sections that addresses health crises, pandemics, etc, and where citizens can lose their rights. How that comes about, government decides; when that comes about, government decides; and how bad that crisis has to be, government decides. But I think rather than the employers and the workers’ representatives having to figure that out, it would be helpful for government to take some leading role.”
Observing that while government is quiet on this issue, he warns that its position can have political consequences for the upcoming general elections.
Health Minister, Hon Nickolas Steele commented that this becomes an issue on the rights of individuals and employers and whose right is more important. Stating that this situation presents one of conflicting rights, he said this is where the court decides on whose rights are more important, not the government.
He shared his personal opinion that the right of the individuals who takes every effort to protect themselves and be vaccinated is more important and should be protected than one who “throws caution to the wind.”
However, Prime Minister Dr the Right Hon Keith Mitchell during a televised interview on Thursday said he sees no conflict in the rights of workers and employers, noting that while employees can choose, employers have the right to insist that workers are vaccinated.
He added that there are many rules that are not laws, that employers have implemented that an individual must adhere to, to be able to work at their establishment.
The Prime Minister called on religious and trade union leaders to encourage members to get vaccinated, noting that vaccination is not a political issue but a health one.
Christopher De Allie, who was also a panelist on “A National Conversation on Vaccination,” commented that while initially the concern was finding a balance between saving lives and livelihoods, vaccination now provides an avenue to save both and bring back normalcy.
“We cannot mandate people to take vaccines, that is your right, I wouldn’t support that. But you also have to see the right on the other side, I can refuse you coming to my private and personal space if I think you would endanger me,” he said.
As General Manager of Sisson’s Paints, De Allie added, “We in the business community have started seeing that. In my business where is supply paint, we have had letters come to us from other business facilities that have said to us, we would not want our employees to come on their compound or vice versa, unless they can show proof of vaccination.”
He noted that the answer is not a simple to the question of how employers should treat with employees who deny vaccination, especially front-line workers, who are required to be vaccinated to carry out their duties.