Letter: Unions have active role in vaccination against Covid-19

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Dear Editor,

Workers’ Unions have an active role to play in getting workers around Guyana vaccinated against COVID-19 and making sure mandates are implemented as smoothly and as fairly as possible.

Safety and health are at the core of a Union’s role, and this pandemic is no exception. A pay check is meaningless if you die at work.

Functionally, official Union support or opposition to COVID-19 vaccine mandates is academic. Courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have made it clear that employers can require vaccination as a condition of employment with or without a Union’s approval.

Everyone has suffered from this pandemic, but generally workers with Unions were able to stay safer on the job, and get paid for the risks they were assuming.

Rather than acting as an obstacle, Unions can help implement vaccine mandates because they can identify and resolve worker concerns about these programmes through the bargaining process.

While politics and weaponised disinformation have made this vaccine a controversy, it’s worth reiterating that vaccine mandates are nothing new. They’ve been mandated for the military since George Washington required smallpox vaccines during the Revolutionary War. Vaccines are required for healthcare workers, teachers, most first responders and many others — including flight attendants who fly international routes. Nearly all schools require vaccinations for students to enrol.

It’s important not to let the controversy overwhelm the reality: It is obvious that most Americans support a coronavirus vaccine mandate. And it’s no wonder. More than 660,000 have lost their lives, millions have spent days or weeks in the hospital, and many suffer long-haul symptoms.

When one looks at the reality 660,000 have lost their lives, Guyana’s population is approximately 800,000 what a comparison.

Guyanese, teachers, Union leaders and Opposition politicians, we are no different from the majority of Americans. We’ve lost friends, family and too many workers. We’ve faced the destruction of our jobs. COVID-19 is the threat. There are proven strategies to mitigate that threat. So I encourage Union members and Union leaders to be ready to implement vaccine mandates.

Throughout this pandemic, the No 1 priority of our Unions should have been to keep their members, our communities and those they serve safe. COVID is mutating, it’s spreading to kids, and vaccines remain our best defence to protect people and prevent the spread of disease; prevent hospitals from overflowing; keep our economy functioning, plus reopen—and keep open—our schools for full-time in-person learning.

The variant and ensuing rise in cases have changed the situation. More employers should consider vaccination policies, including mandates. And while we still believe the best way to increase vaccinations is through education and voluntary adoption, we must be in a position to work with our employers on workplace vaccination policies, including how they’re implemented—so people who need to be vaccinated can get accommodations, so everyone has access to vaccines and time to get them, and so no one is penalised for medical or religious reasons. Moving forward, if possible, Unions can bargain the impact of these vaccination policies.

Workplace policies should be done with working people, not to them. In fact, several Union affiliates around the world have already worked with elected officials, Education Ministries and other employers on vaccine or test policies. This once-in-a-generation pandemic calls for us to work together to keep people safe and put COVID-19 behind us.

As educators, healthcare professionals and public employees, we play an important role in our communities, and the overwhelming majority of us that are vaccinated. We must continue to advocate for masking, testing, and accurate science-based information about vaccinations to combat the rampant disinformation that’s literally killing Guyanese, vaccines work. Vaccines are safe. And vaccines save lives.

As a General Manager for a utilities company, I am proud to report that our company has achieved 98 per cent 1st dose vaccination rate, with the expectation of 100 per cent at the end of the 2nd dose.

It is important that workers and management shoulder the shared responsibility to keep everyone safe and their livelihoods afloat. Having never experienced an outbreak of this scale, going the extra length to keep everyone safe has been worth the effort.
If companies do it for the business continuity, we do it for humanity; my fellow employees must be safe and must not be exposed to the virus.

Sincerely,
David Adams