Feature
Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton (second right), in discussion with Jamaica Confederation of Trade Union (JCTU) officers (from left) Executive Member, and Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) President General, Kavan Gayle; Assistant General Secretary, and University and Allied Workers Union (UAWU) Vice President, Clifton Grant; Vice President, and Union of Technical, Administrative and Supervisory Personnel (UTASP) General Secretary, St. Patrice Ennis; and President, and Jamaica Association of Local Government Officers (JALGO) General Secretary, Helene Davis Whyte. The occasion was a recent COVID-19 Vaccination Implementation Programme press conference at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston.
Photo: Rudranath Fraser

Trade union leaders have joined the growing number of persons and organisations across the society urging more Jamaicans to get vaccinated against the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Executives of the umbrella Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) and their affiliates made the appeal at a recent COVID-19 Vaccination Implementation Programme press conference, hosted by Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton, during which they endorsed the national effort by the Government.

JCTU President, Helene Davis Whyte, said the Confederation noted “with concern” the increasing number of hospitalisations and deaths arising “from what has been termed… the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Jamaica”.

Mrs. Davis Whyte, who is also General Secretary of the Jamaica Association of Local Government Officers (JALGO), pointed out that while the JCTU acknowledged that the vaccines do not provide immunity from the virus, “they do prevent severe illness, hospitalisation and death”.

Against this background, she said the Confederation is “very concerned” about the level of hesitancy and low take-up of the vaccines.

Mrs. Davis Whyte encouraged well-thinking Jamaicans to play their part in the country’s achieving the 65 per cent target of the population being vaccinated by March 2022.

“We believe this is essential to us being able to return to some kind of normality… where we are able to meet each other and socialise and be back in our workspaces in a comfortable kind of way,” she said.

Vice President, JCTU, St. Patrice Ennis, said consequent on the significant decline in the gross domestic product (GDP) and workplace productivity due to absenteeism sparked by the virus and the resultant illnesses, it is imperative for the unions and other civic-minded Jamaicans to be immersed in the vaccination process by getting inoculated and encouraging persons who are hesitant or skeptical to do likewise.

Against the background of the contrasting narratives and strident positions advanced on the vaccine, Mr. Ennis, who is also General Secretary of the Union of Technical, Administrative and Supervisory Personnel (UTASP), maintained that “this is not the time for us to be divisive”.

“This is why we are [making] it abundantly clear that we support the effort for vaccination,” he added.

Executive member, JCTU, Kavan Gayle, emphasised that vaccination against COVID-19 represented a “very critical stage” in Jamaica’s fight against the pandemic.

“We believe that vaccination is critical, not only to protect and save lives, but to get our economy back on track,” he added.

Consequently, Mr. Gayle, who is also President of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), said as union leaders, “we are lending our voices [to the call] for persons to understand and become aware that it is safe to take the vaccine”.

“It is a way of protecting your life; it is a way of protecting the lives of your families, and it is a way of protecting the lives of the workers who you work with daily. So, we urge you to take the vaccine,” he emphasised.

Noting that other countries have been “moving ahead” with the immunisation of their populations, Mr. Gayle said Jamaica “can’t be left behind in this race”, adding that “we need to increase our momentum in getting our people vaccinated”.

He underscored the importance of the thrust to heighten awareness through sustained public education and information, noting that “it’s important for us to work in partnership… to be collaborative in this fight against the pandemic”.

“We are lending support to this [national vaccination] initiative. We will continue the debates in [the] various workplaces, [and] we will continue to have discussions with employers around accessibility and information to the workers. I say to those persons who have not taken the vaccine [do so] as quickly as possible,” Mr. Gayle added.

The Confederation’s Assistant General Secretary, Clifton Grant, who proudly declared that “I’m fully vaccinated”, said that as trade union leaders, “we have a duty to do everything to ensure that not only [employees] in the workplace are vaccinated but the entire society”.

He expressed concern about the behaviour of some prominent individuals in society, “who we thought would be at the head of the line in leading the charge for the country to be vaccinated”, but who are “confusing the workers [and] others as to whether or not the vaccination process and the vaccines can contribute to their protection”.

“We, as trade union leaders, have an obligation, where we see there are problems [and] where we see challenges with workers, in particular, that we do everything to create that avenue and forum where they are comfortable… communicating with those who have the information as to why they should take the vaccine,” Mr. Grant added.

Meanwhile, Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA) Third Vice President, Clarence Frater, said the union encourages all its members, the broader public sector, and wider society, “to get on board and be vaccinated”.

“We are strongly of the view that this is the only way that we are going to be able to tame this pandemic,” he argued.

The JCTU and its affiliates have partnered with the Health Ministry to further expand on the vaccination of employees in the workplace, some of which have already initiated this undertaking.

Dr. Tufton said the unions’ endorsement of the national vaccination programme “is evidence of the unity of purpose, in terms of advancing this cause”.

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