KINGSTOWN – The St Vincent and the Grenadines government says it will await advice from the Office of the Attorney General on whether or not to appeal a High Court ruling that is allowing public servants who were dismissed over their refusal to be vaccinated against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to file a lawsuit against the state.
“I don’t have a response of the government other than whatever the court ruling on this original preliminary skirmish … that when the Attorney General’s chambers … read the judgment itself, they may decide whether or not they appeal particular aspects of judgment, because it was a mixed judgment,” Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has said.
Last Thursday, the High Court denied permission for judicial review of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Under the mandate, a wide cross section of government workers had to take a jab to stay in their jobs.
But in her ruling, Justice Esco Henry, said that the court should hear the case by former government workers who were dismissed for abandoning their posts, even though the law under which they were fired deemed them absent if they attended work while being unvaccinated against COVID-19.
Gonsalves told reporters that the plaintiffs might appeal aspects of the judgment.
“I don’t know… I read the order; I’ve consulted with the lawyers, naturally. I understand the nature of the order and we await the written judgment,” said Gonsalves, who is also a lawyer.
Former primary school teachers Shanile Howe and Novita Roberts; Cavet Thomas, a former senior customs officer; Alfonzo Lyttle, a former assistant supervisor employed with the Customs and Excise Department; Brenton Smith, a former station sergeant of police; and Sylvorne Olliver, a former corporal of police, brought the lawsuit against the government.
Labour rights advocates, the SVG Teachers Union, Public Service Union (PSU), and Police Welfare Association (PWA) sponsored the lawsuits. However, the court ruled that they were not competent to bring a suit in their own names in the proceedings. The ruling struck out those three bodies and the Attorney General as parties to this part of the proceedings, specifically the application for leave to seek judicial review.
The judge gave permission for the court to review the legality of the Minister of Health’s decision to make Rule 8(1) and (2) of SR&O No. 28 of 202, commonly referred to as the vaccine mandate.
Regulation 8(1) provides that an unvaccinated employee must not enter the workplace and is to be treated as being absent from duty without leave.
Regulation 8(2) states that Regulation 31 of the Public Service Commission Regulations applies to a public office who is absent from duty without being on leave.
Under Public Service Commission Regulations, a public officer who does not attend work for 10 days, without being on leave, is considered to have abandoned the job. (CMC)