Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne has brushed aside moves by trade unions and other organisations to legally challenge his administration’s “mandatory vaccination policy”.
Speaking in Parliament, where legislators agreed to a further 90-day extension of the state of emergency (SOE) that was to have expired on September 30, Browne said lawyers taking up the cases brought by the trade unions were wasting the court’s time.
“There are attorneys in the country who are seeking to be mischievous, some of them seeking notoriety, taking some…ridiculous cases to the courts to waste the court’s time, knowing well that they will be rejected, knowing well that they will not be met with any success,” Browne said.
Browne was particularly critical of the Antigua & Barbuda Trades and Labour Union (AT&LU), which he said was aligned to his governing Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP), though other unions, including the Public Service Association (ABPSA), have been critical of the government’s mandatory vaccination policy to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the country.
“I know the ABPSA, they are taking action, the AT&LU, which incidentally should be aligned to the Labour Party, and I have said to them that that institution is in need of leadership,” Browne said.
“They have now become unfit for leadership, and I have said to the executive as well that by next convention make sure they wheel out all of them. Get new leadership. Wigley George, all of them, totally unfit.
“I have no problem with the others, but when I look at the union that is aligned to our party from its inception and they are going to take that kind of irresponsible action. If they are right, fine. And I am saying here from Wigley George right down, they need to go.”
Browne said the AT&LU had a history of uplifting the people of Antigua & Barbuda.
“You are telling me now that the same union going to take a position to expose its members to hospitalisation and deaths?” he asked.
Browne added that the ruling party “will make that change” given that “the centre power in the AT&LU lies within the Antigua Labour Party and we can effect that change”.
“We can’t say that about the ABWU (Antigua & Barbuda Workers’ Union), but that change will be effected mark my word,” he said.
“And there is no way that they can split this movement between the AT&LU and the ABLP. We are inextricably linked.”
In statement earlier this week, the AT&LU said it received legal counsel and started the process to challenge the government’s mandatory vaccination policy.
The union said it will petition the High Court for judicial review of the government’s policy and amendments to the Public Health Act (Dangerous Infectious Disease) Regulations, claiming that the changes are unreasonable, irrational and disproportionate among other reasons.
Parliament on Thursday gave the green light to further extend the SOE to December 27, allowing for the continuation of a nightly curfew and the imposition of several measures aimed at curbing the spread of the viral illness that so far has been blamed for the deaths of 63 people and the infection of close to 3 000 in the country since March last year.