GTUC’s positions on National COVID-19 Programme and Vaccination

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On 31st August 2021, the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), Guyana Teachers Union (GTU), and Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) joined hands in taking the Government- i.e., the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs-to Court. The Unions are being represented by abled Attorneys-at-law, Darren Wade and Dane Victor Elliot-Hamilton.

The Unions’ applicants, Dawn Gardener, Lincoln Lewis, and Coretta McDonald-representatives of the GPSU, GTUC and GTU respectively- in their filed affidavits to the High Court are seeking among other things: –

1. The declaration of direction by the President in the Order of March 2020 is in excess of his jurisdiction under Section 21 of the Public Service Ordinance; it amounts to an unconstitutional delegation of his power as it infringes Article 111 of the Constitution of Guyana.

2. A declaration that the COVID-19 Emergency Measures dated 29th July 2021 to “be invalid having been made without jurisdiction given the unconstitutional and/or improper delegation of the President’s power under Section 21.

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It is the belief the President is operating outside of his legal remit and violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act, amongst other laws in the execution of the vaccination programme. The named Unions have exercised their right to judicial recourse by placing their concerns before the court for adjudication.

It is gross deception on the part of those peddling the falsification that the Unions are calling on persons not to be vaccinated. At the same time, it is recognised the voices of those who are calling for Guyana to replicate United States (U.S) President Joe Biden’s policy on vaccination mandate as outlined hereunder: –

i)                    The U.S government has mandated vaccination and testing for certain categories of workers.

ii)                 COVID-19 testing in the U.S is free.

iii)               Employers are mandated to give workers paid time off to get vaccinated or recover from any side effects of getting vaccinated. Should employers fail to comply they can face fines of up to US$14,000 per violation.

iv)         The vaccines used in the U.S are approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the U.S has the reputed Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to authorise the efficacy and effectiveness of any vaccine.

v)            There are established engagements with stakeholders; scientific institutions are allowed to work independent of political directive; and there is transparency and accountability in the management of the pandemic.

Society is invited to review the U.S’ situation. If Guyana is to follow the U.S, then Guyana must have a similar environment and conditionalities. That being said, Biden’s policy has not been without criticism and potential legal challenges.

The GTUC continues to urge all workers and citizens to abide by COVID-protocols such as proper handwashing, social distancing, wearing a mask when out of the home and avoiding large crowds. The Union wants these rules to be enforced across the board not selectively as is happening. We continue to urge citizens/workers to comply with COVID-19 protocols.

The GTUC is not against persons taking the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) approved vaccines and is encouraging those who can and want to take these vaccines to do so.  Guyana does not have the capacity to determine the efficacy and effectiveness of any COVID-19 vaccine, thus historically the country has relied on the WHO’s guidance. The Union is against the use of the Sputnik V vaccine which is yet to be approved for use by the WHO.

In an April 2021 WHO’s Policy Brief, which addressed the issue of ‘COVID-19 and mandatory vaccination,’ the Conclusions of that Brief stated:

“Vaccines are effective for protecting people from COVID-19. Governments and/or institutional policy-makers should use arguments to encourage voluntary vaccination against COVID-19 before contemplating mandatory vaccination. Efforts should be made to demonstrate the benefit and safety of vaccines for the greatest possible acceptance of vaccination. Stricter regulatory measures should be considered only if these means are not successful. A number of ethical considerations and caveats should be explicitly discussed and addressed through ethical analysis when considering whether mandatory COVID-19 vaccination is an ethically justifiable policy option. Similar to other public health policies, decisions about mandatory vaccination should be supported by the best available evidence and should be made by legitimate public health authorities in a manner that is transparent, fair, non-discriminatory, and involves the input of affected parties.”

It should be noted the WHO is calling for an inclusive approach in managing the pandemic, a position repeatedly adumbrated by the GTUC. The Congress is once again calling on the Government and Opposition to deliver meaningful leadership to society as ensconced in Article 13 and Article 149C in the Constitution of Guyana, the Public Health laws, Occupational Safety and Health Act, among others, in the fight against the deadly virus which continues to show it does not discriminate against persons or groups.



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