In the midst of a raging debate about mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations, particularly in the workplace, Prime Minister Mia Mottley has announced a four-week period for national consultation and public awareness on the matter.
In the meantime, she will be seeking a legal opinion from the Office of Attorney General Dale Marshall advising on any criminal or civil liability associated with both mandatory vaccination and mandatory testing, as she reserved the right of her administration to “govern”.
Prime Minister Mottley also appealed to people intent on pursuing legal or other alternative measures on the issue to “stay your hand” pending the outcome of the consultation period.
“We have agreed that the Honourable Attorney General will have prepared a legal opinion looking at both criminal and civil liability with respect to aspects of mandatory vaccination and mandatory testing and failure thereto and the consequences of engaging in a way that may be reckless that may cause harm to others. We leave it as broad as that,” the Prime Minister declared at a media conference on Tuesday evening.
During a well-attended meeting of the Social Partnership, Mottley revealed that the legal opinion is expected either on or before August 6, triggering a process nationally and across various sectors.
At the sectoral level, Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations Colin Jordan and Minister of Home Affairs, Information and Public Affairs Wilfred Abrahams will take the lead, while Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw will assume the role of Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Health and Wellness Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic will pilot the national consultations.
“We will start with the consultations within the Social Partnership because, as you appreciate, the Social Partnership is not just a single private sector body or labour union or workers’ association, and therefore we will segment those discussions,” PM Mottley explained.
At the national level, there will be four meetings at strategic locations across the island and consultations will also be facilitated online.
“This is to allow us to give as many Barbadians, whether sectorally or nationally, the opportunity to be heard against the background of the legal opinion which is being received. The legal opinion and the views and perspectives of all will be taken into account. We would love to reach consensus as a Social Partnership, as a country and we pray and hope that we can still do so,” Mottley declared.
“But I have already indicated to the country that the Government has always held the perspective – consult, communicate and where we can’t, we will not fail to govern. But we as Barbadians understand how we do things and, typically, Barbadians respect and want that level of consultation with respect to these matters,” she added.
Since the Prime Minister broached the subject during a press conference last week, officials from the trade union movement have expressed concern that workers were being backed into a corner with a choice between paying for mandatory COVID-19 tests or being vaccinated. Opposition Senator Caswell Franklyn and Public Relations Officer for the Rastafari Progressive Movement (RPM) Ras Simba have expressed concern that the Government’s current direction could see many going to court, while others are already said to be mobilizing protests.
At the table on Tuesday, in addition to Government’s representatives, were numerous representatives of both capital and labour, including the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA), the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA), the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations (CTUSAB) and the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU).
And while there has been no indication that all entities are singing from the same proverbial hymn sheet, there appears to be general agreement to advocate for regular testing and vaccinations, and continued dialogue.
President of the BPSA Edward Clarke gave his opinion about the need for either mandatory vaccines or increased testing, but acknowledged that businesses have agreed to work with labour and government.
“We ask our membership in the private sector to bear with us. We hope that you understand the position that the Prime Minister has asked us to support and we are certainly willing to do so,” he said.
On the other hand, General Secretary of the BWU, Toni Moore maintained that the best method for soliciting cooperation from the masses is through public education rather than force.
The Social Partnership is expected to meet again at the end of August before the Government updates the country.