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An open letter to Minister of Labour Nimal Siripala de Silva

BY The Ceylon Mercantile Industrial and General Workers’ Union (CMU)

We wish to comment and protest your statement made in reply to a question raised by Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) Representative Yohan Lawrence, at the last National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) held on 27 October at the Labour Secretariat.

At the CMU’s General Council meeting held on 28 October, which was attended by 52 branch union leaders representing 18 companies, the following concerns were raised on that same issue.

Lawrence, at the end of the meeting, inquired from you whether they could keep the workers at home and not allow them inside the workplace, without paying wages, if they refuse to take the Covid-19 vaccination.

You, as the NLAC Chairman, replied: “of course, you can”, a response in which we’re extremely disappointed, especially considering your position as the Minister of Labour.

We are of the view that as the Minister of Labour, your duty should have been to offer advice in an impartial manner, as this issue regarding the Covid-19 vaccination is a controversial matter, which concerns the lives of people, and as far as we are concerned, is currently under debate. 

We protested immediately and said that it is not ethical to force a vaccination that is still undergoing trials and testing and is under criticism, where not even the producers take responsibility for its side-effects, and has been challenged by medical authorities in different parts of the world. Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union Joint Secretary Anton Marcus pointed out that the employers will use this to penalise trade union leaders, using the Covid-19 vaccination as a pretext.

We have refused to get vaccinated due to personal beliefs and by observing adults suffer from different kinds of after-effects and side-effects after vaccination, which includes employees between the ages of 53 and 67 years who refuse to get the second dose but are in relatively good health despite having co-morbidities such as diabetes.

There is more and more evidence being circulated, of “bad results” including deaths, which are being “passed” off as Covid-19 deaths, even though the media does not report these incidents.

There are many who have taken the vaccines; whether it is Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinopharm, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Moderna, or others. As far as we are aware, the Government has not conducted proper investigations into post-vaccination deaths and made the findings public.

In this context, the Government or employers should not force people to get Covid-19 vaccinations which are still at the testing stage worldwide, unless those who insist that the vaccination should be administered take full responsibility for the after effects, such as those who fall ill or suffer death.

We wish to point out that the workers and employers are practicing the guidelines issued by the Director General of Health Services to safeguard ourselves against this “epidemic” (as far as we know, the whole “pandemic” situation is bloated and inflated by interested parties such as pharmaceutical companies and the like). As you are aware, up to now, only six workers have died and we’re also aware of the fact that some of them suffered with prior health complications. We have not come across any compulsion that the workers should be vaccinated if they are to continue in work. As far as we know, the “epidemic” is now disappearing as the media has highlighted it before, for reasons best known to them.

We will seek legal advice, if any of the employers refuse to employ any worker, based on the denial to subject themselves to “untested, experimental vaccines”.

You will remember that at a previous NLAC meeting, you insisted that garment factory workers at the Board of Investment (BOI) zones and elsewhere should report to duty to sustain the economy. This was said when the employees were under strenuous conditions; when there was no public transport and shops were closed, when there were travel restrictions in place and the whole country was under lockdown, and when the Government sector employees were staying at home, and when even the Labour Department itself was partly closed! 

It is of concern to us that the female workforce which is 57.4% as at 2019 according to Labour Department statistics, which may have decreased after Covid-19, are more vulnerable in this context to the vaccines which are under question. We are concerned about vaccine associated risk in pregnancies and how vulnerable low wage earning garment factory workers are at this stage.

We wish to quote from a document issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on several points worth taking note of, in the given context:

  • In the interim, the WHO recommends the use of the Covid-19 vaccine Sinopharm in pregnant women when the benefits of vaccination to the pregnant woman outweigh the potential risks. To help pregnant women make this assessment, they should be provided with information about the risks of Covid-19 in pregnancy; the likely benefits of vaccination in the local epidemiological context; and the current limitations of safety data in pregnant women. The WHO does not recommend pregnancy testing prior to vaccination. The WHO does not recommend delaying pregnancy or considering terminating pregnancy because of vaccination
  • The Nuremberg Code stated that “No medical treatment can be forced without the consent of the people”. Giving consent by getting a sign on a vaccine card is not a valid consent. People are not properly advised about the outcomes of the vaccine
  • Right to refuse – should not be forced to medicate a person in any form against his/her will

It is also pertinent to inform you that some companies have now taken a stance to not permit workers to have union meetings on the pretext of Covid-19. Some have deprived branch union worker leaders from attending meetings based on the same pretext. They are being threatened to be sent on compulsory quarantine leave if they are found attending union meetings. Some employers are using such measures, which we interpret as an unfair labour practice and therefore, we have no option but to take trade union action against such situations.

As far as we know, currently there are no laws in place to prevent entry into public places or workplaces due to non-vaccination against Covid-19.

It may be of interest to you that we are the only organisation who held May Day celebrations along with a few other organisations, with a demonstration at the Galle Face agitation site. We have not heard of any Covid-19 patient or any spread of the infection being reported with regards to any of the workers who took part in the demonstration on May Day.

We now see the mass protests of workers and students islandwide whilst the employers are trying to introduce new conditions and restrictions in their workplaces.

May we take this opportunity to place on record the concerns we have with regards to the Covid-19 vaccines:

  • The companies that manufacture the vaccines are not taking any responsibility
  • The Government is not taking any responsibility for the after effects of the vaccine
  • The doctors prescribing the vaccine are not taking any responsibility
  • The employers who administer the vaccine are not taking any responsibility
  • The vaccine producing companies are exempted from liability
  • Are we irresponsible citizens if we are not vaccinated?

Accordingly, we wish to point out that forcing workers to get vaccinated is a violation of the fundamental rights of citizens, as well as a violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of this country.

We also wish to point out that most of the workers who have migrated from the villages are people who are accustomed to indigenous medicine, and thus prefer treatment by traditional or Ayurveda medicine. Forcing Western medicine against their will on them, as far as we are concerned, is a crime.

It is also reported to us that the employers that demand their employees be vaccinated have also caused imbalances in the mental state of these workers.

In this context, we would like to inform you that we will take possible and necessary legal and trade union action to protect the human rights of the workers.

We are also compelled to take this matter up with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and our international secretariats for the benefit of our workers.

(The CMU is a trade union in the commercial sector in Sri Lanka)
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the organisation, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.