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No let up, says Public Service Union head

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The leadership of the Public Service Union (PSU) said they are willing to continue the fight to have a recent amendment to the Public Health Act repealed by any necessary means.

“We have to…because let’s say this demonstration does not cause the government to pause and to review. It means that we have to continue our agitation through the court or otherwise. We have to. We have no choice,” PSU president Elroy Boucher told SEARCHLIGHT last Thursday while on the picket line.

Boucher said the Union’s fight goes beyond the current issue and that it has to “continue fighting to ensure that those rights are protected”.

He said the Union was in touch with its lawyers and should the government move forward with the Rules and Orders as it is now, the PSU lawyers have been instructed to go to the Court to seek an injunction.

Under the amended law, essential front line workers are required to either be vaccinated or undergo regular testing for COVID19 at their own expense.

The Union’s grouse with the amendment, which led to four days of industrial action, is that the change, in their view, infringes on people’s rights and fundamental freedoms.

Protest action taken by the trade union has also generated public debate, as last week’s demonstration was initially prohibited under the Public Order Act, by the Commissioner of Police (COP) Colin John who said the protest contravenes Section 10 of the Act, as the location is within a 200-yard radius from a point within curtilage of the High Court and Parliament.

Parliament was scheduled to meet last Thursday September 9 but has since been postponed to September 30.

The Union wrote a second letter informing the Commissioner of their intentions to move forward with protests in Kingstown and was subsequently granted approval by COP John as the meeting of Parliament was no longer taking place on that day.

But prior to John’s approval, Jomo Thomas, one of the PSU’s lawyers said the Commissioner’s initial prohibition “flies in the face of the last 70 years of political history in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

“People, organisations, whether they are trade unions or political parties or pressure groups or whatever, had always had as its desire to come to the centre of Kingstown and participate in legitimate protest,” Thomas said while speaking at a joint press conference of the PSU, SVG Teachers Union and Rise Hairouna on August 7.

“So, in 1951, when the Eighth Army of Liberation led by George Charles and Joshua was coming into function, what they did was to march from Arnos Vale to Kingstown. The Baptists always marched into Kingstown. Every Labour Day, as I was growing up as a young man in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the unions marched into Kingstown. Joshua’s People’s Political Party had marched into Kingstown. When the United People’s Movement of Ralph Gonsalves and Renwick Rose and Mike Browne and the others were launching their electoral campaign of 1979, they marched from Sion Hill into Kingstown.”

The lawyer said further: “So, what is this notion now that in 2021, when we are supposed to be broadening our democratic best practices, we are now curtailing the rights of people to participate and to demonstrate their fundamentally protected right to assembly and protest?”

Thomas commented that the Commissioner of Police misunderstood the Public Order Act and should have sought guidance from the Attorney General, who would have helped with the interpretation of the law and how it should be implemented, in keeping with the country’s constitution. 

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