Thu | Dec 9, 2021

Court president warns against unilateral imposition of mandatory vaccine policy

Published:Saturday | September 18, 2021 | 12:10 AM
Justice Deborah Thomas-Felix
Justice Deborah Thomas-Felix


The President of the Industrial Court, Justice Deborah Thomas-Felix, on Friday said that mandatory vaccination policy cannot be unilaterally imposed in Trinidad and Tobago as a condition of employment.

“The laws of this country do not directly address the issue of COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment. In fact, there is no existing law worldwide which I can find which addresses this issue before the pandemic,” she told the opening of the Industrial Court law term.

“While there is no express provision in the Industrial Relations Act of Trinidad and Tobago for COVID-19 vaccination policies to be introduced in the workplace as new terms and conditions of employment, our legal framework provides for the introduction of new policies, new terms and conditions of employment, and new working arrangement through the collective bargaining process,” she added.

Justice Thomas-Felix said that such policies and arrangements “in my view, include vaccination policy and COVID-19 vaccination policy” and that while employers can create new vaccination policy within the new terms and conditions, this cannot be done unilaterally.

“It is settled law that an employer ought not to unilaterally make any material change or alteration to a worker’s contract of employment. The introduction of a COVID-19 vaccination policy or any new policy can amount to a material change in the terms and conditions of employment and ought not to be imposed unilaterally,” the judge said.

“More so if the particular business enterprise is considering the introduction of a mandatory vaccination policy as a term of employment, there should be collective bargaining between the employer and the workers’ representative.”

While the government has already indicated that it would not be implementing any mandatory COVID-19 policy or legislation, but is encouraging persons to be vaccinated against the virus that has killed 1,397 and infected 47,925, the situation is not the same within the private sector.

Earlier this week, the Banking, Insurance and General Workers’ Union said it had filed a petition against Republic Bank Ltd in the Industrial Court calling for the bank to end its return-to-work policy.