President of the Prison Officers Association Ceron Richards

“No forced vaccine!”

The Protective Services Association representing police, fire and prison officers, yesterday rejected Government’s call for unvaccinated state workers to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

The association wants Government to make an official pronouncement on workers’ concerns over claims of liabilities for “adverse reactions” associated with vaccination.

The group also wants protective service members to be compensated for working during the pandemic.

Members cited St Kitts’ recent announcement of a double salary for its civil servants.

The association comprises the Police Service Social & Welfare Association, the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) (Second Division) and the Fire Service Association (FSA) (Second Division).

The associations have dispatched a letter to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley seeking a meeting with him before the end of the week on their collective position. This was confirmed by Police Service Social & Welfare Association President Gideon Dickson yesterday.

The heads issued a statement yesterday to all members of the protective services following an emergency meeting on last Saturday’s announcement by Rowley and the consequence for non-compliance.

Rowley had announced that the public sector would be made a safe zone, requiring all Government workers to be vaccinated by mid-January 2022.

Those who refuse vaccination will be furloughed—remaining at home without pay, though their job will be intact.

Yesterday’s statement from the association heads was signed by Dickson, Cerron Richards (president, Prison Officers Association) and Leo Ramkissoon (Fire Service Association). It was copied to Dr Rowley.

They stated, “We are not in support of any constructive mandatory vaccination, as we deemed it the same as mandatory vaccination. The varying of terms and conditions of Employment without consultation is illegal and goes against all established industrial relations practices/laws, as articulated by the President of the Industrial Court, Deborah Thomas-Felix.

“Every person has the constitutional right to the enjoyment of property and for workers that is their salaries. The announcement threatens to violate those rights, which we utterly reject.”

The statement continued, “We have deemed the action to impose a ‘quasi safe zone’ work environment as being discriminatory against the Protective Services given our daily functions with the general public and prisoners, who are not conditioned to such mandates.”

The statement added, “The Protective Services and by extension the essential services have been steadfast in their duties during the pandemic, while other public officers enjoy the luxury of being at home. Immediate steps should be taken to appropriately compensate these workers.

“Collectively, as the bargaining bodies for members of the Protective Services, we will continue to defend the interest of our members and have always sought consultation with the Prime Minister, Minister of National Security and Government. Nevertheless, we will not allow our members’ constitutional rights to be trampled upon.”

Associations won’t

discourage officers

Dickson said his association won’t discourage officers who want to vaccinate but didn’t want to break the law as it stands on terms and conditions now, “Because we are enforcers of the law.”

“I’m vaccinated, so are the other association heads. We encourage members to vaccinate. We say do your research and make the necessary choice once you’re comfortable with vaccination. But there are laws regarding terms and conditions and we can’t violate that based on directive of a policy.”

On calls for further compensation, Dickson said public servants got their salary and leave but officers’ leave was restricted.

“We feel some form of (gratuity type) payment is needed beyond the symbolic clap of appreciation given a few months ago,” he said.

“We realise around the region, frontline officers are being compensated further such as in St Kitts and Guyana.”

Last week, St Kitts Prime Minister Timothy Harris announced a double salary for civil servants on that island. That was to assist those workers and generate economic activity.

POA president Cerron Richards also said prison officers were free to vaccinate if they wanted but the POA was against forcing people to take it against their will. On why the vaccination rate for officers was so low, he said it was their individual choices, but he also felt the figures given last Saturday were skewed.

On further compensation, Richards said prison officers worked during the pandemic “without rest” while other sectors had leave.

“We want recognition in the form of compensation.

FSA president Leo Ramkissoon said, “This proposal is unconstitutional. Changing terms and conditions requires consultation, they could have spoken to us but they didn’t. We aren’t telling our members not to accept vaccination, but people have the right to choose.”

“More could have been done by persuasion but they haven’t engaged us to get vaccinated and find out members’ concerns. There’s a lot of misinformation and confusion out there.”

On more compensation, Ramkissoon also cited St Kitts “double salary” development. He added while Government “clapped” officers for being on the job, they should have realised fire officers are still on 2011-13 salaries and prices have skyrocketed.

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, who will bring the law on the issue when Parliament resumes after Christmas, said he was addressing the matter. National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds didn’t reply to the associations’ statement.