Another major point of concern for the Public Service Union is the recent announcement of mandatory vaccination for public officers. The announcement from the Government states that all essential workers and public officers must be partially or fully vaccinated in order to have access to their workspaces. According to the President of the Public Service Union (PSU), Dean Flowers, they do not agree with what they have dubbed as the high-handedness of the government. Additionally, he noted that just last Friday, Minister Chebat had noted to the media that they are moving away from forcing the citizens to be vaccinated.
Dean Flowers, President, Public Service Union: “He did in fact say the government is changing its approach and we’ve been saying this to the government for some time that the best way for us to address the COVID-19 situation would be for us to dialogue and for us to look at ways how we can sensitize the public and educate the public on vaccines rather than force vaccines down their throats. And so Minister Chebat’s comment was very comforting to the Belizean public not only public officers and that was on Friday as you rightly said and by Monday I received this phone call from the CEO in the Ministry of Public Service saying that he was instructed by his minister to issue a mandatory vaccination effective December 15. I’m not surprised by the disjointed approach or the fact that the Minister of Health is saying one thing and the Minister of Public Service is saying a total different thing. The Minister of Public Service has always said to this union that mandatory vaccination is the way to go he has always said that whenever we would sit and meet that he believes vaccination ought to be mandatory. Whether or not this is a unilateral decision on this part now I don’t know. The only thing I know at this present moment is that there is no legislation, no SI to substantiate or defend this mandate issued by the Ministry of Public Service. We know those SIs those would come through the Public Health Act so I don’t know what’s the communication between the Minister of Public Service and the Minister of Health. I know they are not on the same page. And then there is also the memo from Dr.Melissa Musa who I believe is the Deputy Regional Director where she sent the staff at the Central Regional Lab or the Central Regional Health Facility there that by December the first they would all need to have presented their COVID-19 vaccination card so three different message. Of course Dr.Musa’s memo and the CEO in the Ministry of Public Service memo kinda are in the same considering that both are demanding mandatory vaccine and the presentation of vaccination cards to enter the work place. The Public Service Union has categorically stated that we cannot support a vaccine mandate. We are a representation of a diverse group of individuals who all have different views on the vaccine and it is for that reason specifically that we must respect every single individual’s concerns and reservations that they have on the vaccine. We will await to see whether or not the Public Health Act if an SI comes out that would force public officers to get vaccines.”
The PSU is in the process of getting advice from its lawyers with the hope to get an injunction against the mandatory vaccination of public officers. According to Flowers, there are several factors that they will be presenting to their attorneys.
Dean Flowers, President, Public Service Union: “For now we are not in agreement with circular seventy nine. Under no circumstances will we support circular seventy nine of 2021. We’re looking at ways that we can challenge it legally and that is currently we’re looking at two angles. We believe that this is a unilateral change in the terms and conditions of service of public officers which is wrong. No employer I wish to state to all workers out there including and more specifically to public officers, no employer can unilaterally change your terms and conditions of service. These conditions were not agreed to by public officers when they joined the service and so the CEO in the Ministry of Public Service nor the Minister and the Minister of Public Service has any authority to unilaterally change those terms and conditions of service, that’s one angle. The other angle that we want our legal minds to look at would be to give us an opinion or whether or not these actions constitute a constructive dismissal by this administration. We believe that it’s deliberately being done to frustrate people and to create a relationship between the employer and the employee that simply cannot go on because people do have legitimate reservations. The circular fails to speak to health conditions how we would address those. It fails to address individuals who may have already contracted COVID and are unable to get the vaccine. It does not speak to the assumption of any liability by the Ministry of Public Service or the Government if it is that any public officer were to have short or long term effects as a result of the mandatory vaccine. And to conclude on this matter I want to categorically state that at no point in time was the Public Service Union consulted on any COVID-19 policy that has been implemented, that is being implemented or that will be implemented; at no point in time has that courtesy been afforded to us as the representative of workers in the public sector. We want to look at what the legal opinions would say in terms of us addressing it from a legal standpoint there is also the option for us to file an injunction against the government or against the Ministry of Public Service possibly prohibiting them from being able to force this circular which has no legal standing and which infringes on people’s personal rights.”
Minister of Home Affairs, Kareem Musa briefly spoke on the issue of vaccination of public officers when he met with the media this morning. Minister Musa says it is expected that the order from the government will face legal challenges.
Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs and New Growth Ministries: “It was a decisions made months ago and we’ve given it time. I think December 1st was the original date. This was about three months ago that we had set that time is now fast approaching and so we have given another fifteen days additional time but we’re only saying this is for public officers you know and this particular issue when it comes to a mandate has been addressed not only in the Caribbean but internationally as well in other countries in the great United States there are court judgements saying that for individuals who are working for the government and who are interacting especially like doctors and nurses and you’re interacting it is your obligation to get vaccinated because you have to protect others as well that you’re dealing with. And so it has not been found to be unconstitutional in any of those countries and so if it challenged in Belize which probably it will be that is fine, that is fine for it to be challenged but at the same time I think like the region, like the Caribbean and the United States and other parts of the world the judges will find that it’s not unconstitutional because you’re protecting other people not just yourself. It’s not about us it’s about others.”
As we have reported, rapid or PCR tests will no longer be allowed as at December 15. If an essential worker or public officer fails to present proof of vaccination, he/she will not be allowed in the office to work and will subsequently be declared absence which would result in disciplinary actions.