The government must “hold firm” on any attempts to “jump the vaccine queue”, according to the Irish SME Association (ISME), which represents small and medium-sized enterprises.

In a statement yesterday (Tuesday, April 6), ISME said it “notes with great concern” the coordinated threats from a number of unions to “explore any and all options, up to and including industrial action” as a result of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) policy advice to prioritise vaccine delivery on an age-related basis.

ISME said it is “well aware” of the pressure that unions are under from some quarters to seek priority on the vaccine queue, adding:

“We have had to deal with similar requests from employer groupings in particular sectors among our own membership, but we have politely refused to entertain them.

“To do otherwise would open a free-for-all, where government is forced to deal with the loudest, most threatening groups – rather than those presenting the greatest clinical need.

The SME group added that, while the latest NIAC advice to prioritise vaccination on an age basis “may be imperfect and blunt”, it is also “objectively fair”, deals with the most at-risk citizens first, and is “least prone to circumvention”.

The association added: “ISME does not believe a majority of teachers would support industrial action on this issue – but we also believe that the public and business reaction to it, even if only threatened, would be negative and vociferous.”

Although teachers, like all workers, enjoy the legal right to withdraw their labour, this does not mean that it is proper or morally defensible to do so in a case such as this, the SME group said.

“ISME represents businesses such as essential retail, cleaning, warehousing, distribution and food and medicines manufacture, which have continued to work non-stop throughout the pandemic despite the absence of vaccines. These people would rightly view any attempt to close our schools as both precious and reprehensible.

“Similarly, those hundreds of thousands of workers who have been furloughed on the PUP would look with incredulity and justifiable anger upon a cohort who have suffered no loss of income refusing to work because they were not prioritised for vaccination.

“If the Minister for Education is presented by unions with any form of threat, express or implied, to withdraw teachers from our schools over the vaccination issue (which is the absolute right of those teachers), she should inform those unions that her department will immediately cease the deduction of union subscriptions from payroll, which is her department’s absolute right,” ISME concluded.