The Montserrat Civil Service Association is asking members and the public to participate in an early morning protest march to denounce discrimination against popular calypsonian and government employee Jester “Ice Man” Weekes. The Montserrat Association for Persons with Disabilities (MAPD) said they plan to support the protest and called for government to update it’s policies which are discriminatory.
The march is slated for Thursday October 1 from 7AM at the BBC Complex in Brades down to Government Headquarters.
Nyota Mulcare, president of the MCSA said they are standing with Weekes who is legally blind and was medically boarded in June 2020 without support and representation. Weekes was a driver with the Public Works Department, a role he could no longer fulfill.
The union has been writing to the Deputy Governor to get them to reinstate the union member’s full pay retroactive to 1 August 2020. They also ask that he be re-assigned to Cesspool Operator or in an appropriate post, taking into consideration his current disability as he will return to active duty on 1 October 2020.
In a letter dated September 9, 2020, Mulcare said “without suitable notice, on 3 June 2020, Mr. Weekes was summoned to a Medical Board hearing to be held the following day, 4 June 2020, with the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Sharra Greenaway-Duberry, Dr. Faqueeda Watson, and Mr. Daren Greer.
“Mr. Weekes reported that during this meeting he felt very much overpowered, disadvantaged, and demoralized. As a result, he made a request to the CMO for an additional meeting to include his Union representative but he was denied. Since then, he has been forced on continuous sick leave beyond his wish, the last due to end on 30 September 2020.”
Weekes situation has been compounded by being put on half salary, and with mortgage payments he was left with only $150 in his bank account, the union official said in the letter. “This injustice was done without any form of communication to him.”
The MCSA called the Medical Board proceedings archaic as public officers face the board without representation. “It is a violation of basic “human rights” and should be adjusted promptly to facilitate representation of any officer by the same number of persons as the Board. These representatives should be of his/her choosing, whether it may be a Union Member, Lawyer, relative, or a combination.”
They are also calling on the government’s Human Resources Management Unit (HRMU) “to adopt ‘soft’ policies that incorporate compassion” and “ensure that officers are fully trained to exercise proper judgement. Officers should not act in such a way as to bring the process into disrepute and cause further harm or distress to the individual. The Medical Board should not be seen to be bullying or overpowering the individual who is being medically boarded.”
The union official said Weekes, who is the reigning calypso monarch of the island does not wish to be medically boarded and feels that a suitable position can be found for him so he can continue to support himself and his family.
“The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Disability Inclusion Strategy and Action Plan of 2015 addresses the rights of disabled people, disabled workers, equal employment opportunity, and the integration of people with disabilities. The document highly promotes disability inclusion to “promoting and ensuring the participation of people with disabilities in education, training and employment and all aspects of society and providing the necessary support and reasonable accommodation so that they can fully participate”. ILO via this document also promotes social justice for people with disabilities, and equal opportunities for persons with disabilities in the world of work.
“The MCSA hereby requests that Mr. Jester Weekes be given the opportunity for continued employment in a suitable position. Mr. Weekes may not be able to return to his substantive post of Driver/Operator, but measures can be put in place for him to assume other roles such as Cesspool Operator (preferably) or any other appropriate post within the Public Service to which he can be reasonably assigned,” the letter noted.
“Jester Weekes is the Vice President of Montserrat Association for Persons with Disabilities and a prominent figure on the island. We are hoping that because of his profile his case will raise awareness of the plight of persons with disabilities across the island,” the organisation said in a statement.
“Persons with disabilities have no protection under Montserrat’s Constitution and there is no specific legislation requiring them to be treated as equal members of society. All we have is the Labour Code 2012, so ensuring that the Government, and other employers, comply with this is of fundamental importance.
“Clause 62 of the Labour Code says that disability “shall not constitute a valid reason for termination of employment”. Disability is not an illness and, as the Labour Code explicitly sates, it is not a disciplinary offence. The Government now has to address the demands of the UN Disability Committee, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the UN C24 Mission to Montserrat, and everyone else who looks at the legal status of Persons with Disability on the island, and put protections in place to ensure that their employments rights are respected.
All are asked to wear a mask.