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Prime Minister Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris, the Honourable Wendy Phipps, Minister of Labour, and Attorney-General, the Honourable Vincent Byron Jr., all weighed in on the matter on Tuesday (August 24, 2021) at the Prime Minister’s Monthly Press Conference.
Attorney-General Byron Jr. summed it up by explaining that employers have a right to provide a safe working environment for themselves, their workers and clients/customers. This includes educating workers on the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines and encouraging unvaccinated workers to get vaccinated. He added that workers also have individual rights that they can take to court.
“We believe that everything should be done with a soft law approach to find ways in which the unvaccinated may be asked to do other duties, where they do not come into contact with the general public,” he stated, noting that one consideration may be asking unvaccinated to work from home in the first instance.
Prime Minister Harris said that every citizen and legal resident in St. Kitts and Nevis has a right to work.
“We support that as a government. The laws and our Constitution offer that protection,” he said, noting that the government will “always” defend this right.
Minister Phipps explained that the labour environment in St. Kitts and Nevis is maintained through the tripartite system that features employers, employees and the government all working together to ensure that laws are changed, created and amended by consensus.
She indicated that there is a global recession as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in job losses in every country.
This fact makes it impossible to determine if the decision of companies to move forward without unvaccinated employees is solely a result of them opting not to take a jab.
“Legally, the Ministry of Labour, the Department of Labour will make every effort to ensure that the rights of workers are protected, but at the same time, based on how the laws are written and that the workers, employers, as well as what the government looks at as its own role in terms of labour administration, we have to recognize that we are still governed by the law,” she stated. “So, whatever the emotions, rightly placed, we are still governed by law.”
The minister added that “… the Department of Labour will do everything in its power to ensure that the rights of workers, just as the rights of employers are protected and respected. But at the same time, the individual also has recourse to the court.”