The Government will not withdraw its proposed vaccination policy for the public sector, says Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
At a news conference yesterday, he further called on Ancel Roget, head of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) and the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM), to tell the country why he (Roget) got vaccinated but does not support others taking the vaccine.
The legislation to effect a policy requiring all public servants to be vaccinated to work in Government offices will come to the Parliament in January as projected.
Al-Rawi said the Government’s policy is to save lives, as he reiterated that nine out of ten patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) are unvaccinated.
The AG added that Omicron variant of the coronavirus posed dangers, as he noted the health system is under pressure, bodies are piling up, and internationally mass burial and cremation sites are being prepared.
The AG met with the trade union movement and the protective services virtually on Wednesday.
He said at both meetings there was no support for the vaccination policy.
Al-Rawi said Roget had put forward two conditions: withdraw the vaccination policy, and provide empirical evidence that vaccination stops infection and the spread of Covid-19 and its variants.
The AG said he provided this information to the Government’s team, and “I can say today that the Government is not in a position to withdraw its policy statement”.
Al-Rawi said Roget had indicated the unions were not anti-vaccine and that he (Roget) had taken a vaccine.
“You respectfully have me in a position where I simply do not understand how you can decide to take a vaccine but not be in support of others taking a vaccine. So perhaps Mr Roget can explain that position for us,” he said.
The AG appealed to the trade union movement to say what they want, and what recommendations can they put forward to save lives that can be dealt with immediately and manage the “Omicron explosion”.
Al-Rawi noted this country has recorded over 2,600 Covid-19 deaths, and the Government is in the position where it is obliged to act to save lives.
He said during the Delta surge there were calls for a Government policy, and now that there is a policy during Omicron no recommendations are coming forward. “As Attorney General tasked with the responsibility to draft the law and to get to the particulars of recommendations, I am pleading on behalf of the Government for the trade union movement to provide its alternative recommendations,” he said.
He reiterated that Roget’s condition to show empirical evidence that the vaccines will stop infection and the spread of the virus does not exist in the world.
The AG said he also met with the representatives of the security services, which include police, prisons and fire, on Wednesday.
He said recommendations they put forward included being prioritised for testing and treatment.
Al-Rawi said they also wanted a deeper education exercise.
The AG said they further recommended that every person in the protective services has access to a doctor and nursing personnel provided by the State, where their medical status can be provided on a one-on-one basis and then they can be taken into the priority treatment.
He said they further recommended they be provided with incentives to take the vaccine.
The AG said he indicated there would be difficulty in giving priority access to law enforcement getting medical treatment, given that there are hundreds of thousands of workers who work on the frontline, including doctors and nurses.
“We are looking at the issue of liability, the medical insurance aspect is a process, some of those unions are very far ahead in those structures,” he said.
The AG also expressed his disagreement with the Express editorial yesterday. He said the Express editorial indicated the key to treating with this issue is to reignite the national tripartite arrangement and to go through the industrial relations route because that is where collective bargaining is treated with.
Al-Rawi said this process is not an option because of time sensitivity, given the Omicron variant.
He said the only way it can be treated is by a law that can “stand superior” to the collective bargaining process.
He reiterated this policy does not require a special majority vote in the Parliament.
He said Trinidad and Tobago’s policy is not mandatory, as public servants have a choice to not take it and face a consequence on the work side.
Health system under pressure
The AG said T&T’s health system is under pressure and the Covid-19 pandemic is having a “rippling effect” on the regular healthcare system.
He said an attorney in the AG’s office had a grandfather who died from a heart attack and the ambulance took an hour to reach to provide assistance.
Al-Rawi said this occurred because the ambulance system is occupied moving Covid patients.
He noted the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) has run out of space and will utilise a 20-foot container to store bodies.
In Trinidad, he said a mass refrigeration space is being built for bodies.
He said the Prime Minister is required to act in the face of adversity—the mortuaries are full and resources are limited in terms of doctors, nurses, hospital beds and ventilators.