“During times of crisis, everybody feels their work is essential,” says Boris Guerrero. He is the Vice-President of CONNUT, Chile’s National Confederation of Transport Workers. As the first stage of mass inoculation begins in every country, everybody starts wondering “when is it going to be my turn?”.
By Isidora Hernández
According to Chile’s vaccination Calendar, the first groups that will receive the Covid-19 vaccine will be health care workers, the elderly and workers who perform critical functions for the State. Apparently, driving almost 8 million passengers every day across the city of Santiago is not one of them, at least to the Government and the Ministry of Health. They have ignored the demands of the bus drivers union and have not put them on the vaccination schedule. The drivers have reached out to the Health Minister, Enrique Paris, twice, but have not received a response. The authorities affirm that the first ones to receive the vaccine should be those who are within the risk groups, but thousands of these people use public transport daily. Wouldn’t it be safer if their driver was also vaccinated?
This is what CONNUT thinks. Until now, at least 500 drivers have been infected with the virus and six of them have died. Most of them work for the Subus Company, they are in charge of local buses around the city of Santiago and they reach all the communes of the capital. “We are essential workers, we are front liners and we are constantly exposed to the virus” states Guerrero, who speaks for his fellow workmates. He adds “If we decided to go on a strike, we would paralyze the city, that’s how essential we are”. As a guild, they do not rule out taking this measure to put pressure on the government. The Vice-President says “It is the only tool we have to achieve our request”. Still, they plan to go through the official protocol and ask the authorities, with the backup of the company they work for. Despite this, the workers feel helpless, Guerrero states they can’t conceive how the Government hasn’t considered them as essential workers or as a group that could help reduce the spread of the virus. According to Jorge Ramírez, Director of the Global Health Program of the School of Public Health, University of Chile. There has to be a prioritization of who receives the vaccine. “It has nothing to do with resources, it’s a production issue,” Ramírez says. Even though Chile leads the inoculation rate in Latin America with 4.17%, it does so at a slower rate than Europe.
The health expert also acknowledges the fact that the drivers are indeed essential. But says it is strategically more complicated to organize a vaccination campaign for workers who are in constant movement, which makes it less likely to happen in the first stage of inoculation. Regarding a possible strike of the workers, Jorge Ramírez thinks it would help to have a more clear schedule of the vaccine calendar, but that “we still need to welcome workers’ concerns” he adds. Ramirez concludes that a possible suspension of the functions of public transport would not only harm the population in terms of health but also economically. And can also encourage other types of unions to do the same. “With great responsibility, I say that we must trust the institutions and the criteria they use for those who should be vaccinated first”. Neither the Health Ministry nor the Medical College wanted to give a statement for this article