Civil servants wary of mandatory vaccination-or-test policy

January 13, 2022

President of the Jamaica Civil Servants Association (JCSA), O'Neil Grant, believes that a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine-or-test policy for public sector workers may result in legal battles. He told THE STAR that through the Public Sector Monitoring Committee, discussions with the Government started last November to craft a COVID-19 policy position.

"If the policy is purely about vaccination and not about the management of the infection amongst the workforce, then it will not get the ready acceptance of the workers in the public sector where we see an unfortunately high level of unvaccinated workers. I foresee our members demanding the union to test the legality of any mandate as a change to the conditions of their employment," he said.

Grant noted that the public sector is governed by the Constitution and from that comes the regulations, staff orders and various instructions that are issued by the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, The Office of the Cabinet and the Office of the Services Commission.

"Given this, it is always the best route to have consultations about policies like these which will be a material change to how we in the public sector understand the terms of our employment to be," Grant revealed.

Recently, two private sector organisations, Digicel and Cari-Med implemented mandatory COVID-19 vaccine-or-test policies, which were greeted with litigation by employees. However Supreme Court judge Justice Sonya Wint-Blair ruled against the five employees of Cari-Med and the senior data analyst from Digicel. The Cari-Med employees presented a claim that the policy breached their contract. For the public sector policy that is being crafted, Grant said that it will take into account recommendations from "all unions and staff associations representing for various subsectors with the public sector."

Grant said that a COVID-19 policy would be necessary, seeing that vaccination is not a cure-all for the highly contagious illness. He argues that the operation within ministries, departments and agencies could be strengthened if there was an occupational safety and health policy in place for public sector organisations. Although Grant could not provide a definite figure for the percentage of fully vaccinated public sector workers, he believes that it may be higher than the national average of 21 per cent.

"Most offices have good adherence to the infection prevention protocols and so we have been very good at keeping infection transmission between workers low. However, we see that the highly transmissible Omicron variant is posing a severe challenge for the management of the infection, even among the vaccinated, hence our position that a vaccine mandate is now an inappropriate response in the workplace as the source of most, if not all, infection is in the communities where persons attend social and recreational events," Grant explained.

He said the policy recommendations are in the final stages and should be submitted to the finance ministry soon. Thereafter, Grant said discussions between the Government and the JCSA should begin, so that an acceptable policy may be arrived at.

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