KINGSTOWN, St Vincent – As teachers at a secondary school here protested government’s vaccine mandate for the second day in less than a week, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves announced that his government will hire teachers, including retired educators, on short term contracts, to fill their place.
He served notice during his weekly appearance on the state-owned NBC Radio, on Wednesday, as teachers at West St. George Secondary School (WSGSS), responded to the call of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU) and sat in their staff room, refusing to go to classes.
The WSGSS teachers are standing in solitary with their colleagues who have opted to not get vaccinated against COVID-19. Last Friday, the teachers at the school, where about 11 of the 31 educators are unvaccinated, wore black and sat in their classroom in protest.
Unvaccinated teachers and other public sector workers for whom the jab is required but who have not obtained a medical or religious exemption, have until Friday to take the jab or be deemed to have abandoned their posts.
Prime Minister Gonsalves said that he had heard about the stance of teachers at WSGSS and the Ministry of Education was keeping him informed.
“I am asking my brothers and sisters who are teaching in West St. George, please don’t punish the students. Don’t punish the students by going to school and not teaching the students,” he said on NBC Radio.
“You are hurting people who don’t deserve to be hurt and you are doing so on a basis which is not rational. Please.”
He said that his government has an obligation for the safety of the students and that obligation “is high on the totem pole”.
“I’m talking about the safety of the children,” Gonsalves insisted. “So if you want to go to school and stay in your staff room, I will instruct the Ministry of Education to hire other teachers to go and teach. Indeed, I have given them instructions, if need be, not only there but anywhere else, to hire retired teachers; take them on short-term contracts.”
Gonsalves said that he would make a Cabinet decision to ensure that the retired teachers’ pensions continue even as they are awarded teaching contracts.
“Everybody must understand how I think and how I am leading and how the government thinks,” he said.
“You want to go to school and stay in your staff room? I ain’t sending police to move you. I just get somebody else to teach people’s children, including, if necessary, retired teachers.
“And I will pass a Cabinet decision to have them paid whatever their numeration under the new contract — short term, whilst they still continue to get their pension for what they have served already. That is how high on the totem pole I put the children. And I do this with an open heart and with love,
“I have nothing personal against anybody who is choosing to not take the vaccine. I am talking about within the framework of the regulations. But I am urging you to take what I consider to be the rational and correct choice, take the vaccine unless you have one of the exemptions. But if you decide that you are not taking it, well, choices have consequences,” the Prime Minister added.