Cape Town - Vaccinate or face being banned from work.
That is the stern warning a farmer has issued to his employees, sparking outrage from workers’ unions who have described Rob Duncan’s threats as “abusive master/slave tactics”.
His workers at Pomona Farm in Piketberg told the Cape Times that they were issued with a letter, warning that if they don’t take the vaccine, they will lose their jobs.
“Vaccination for anyone who is 18 years and older has been open and we have registered and transported everyone who has asked. I have asked all people who do not want to vaccinate to come and give me reasons for not wanting to vaccinate. To date, only two people have come to see me and I have spoken to two others.
“From Wednesday 8 September 2021 anyone who is 18 years and older will no longer be allowed to work, live or visit Pomona Farm unless they can show proof of vaccination,” read the letter dated September 1.
Duncan said of the 81 employees on the farm, including casual workers, only four have opted not to get vaccines - but the rest of the workers and their families have received their jabs.
He refused to answer questions when approached on Monday, referring the Cape Times to other articles, where he is quoted as saying the decision was made to keep “the rest of the staff and owners safe at work and at home” and to “not compromise efficient business operations”.
A worker speaking on condition of anonymity said they were shocked by the letter.
“It was on August 13 when the farmer called us to ask why we don't want to take the vaccine. I gave him the reasons and I told him I am a Christian and my belief is not like his belief.
“He said that's not what matters, he wants his farm people safe and if I’m not going to take the vaccine, I'm going to be a risk to his farm people. So if I'm not going to take the vaccine, there won't be work or accommodation for me on the farm,” the worker said.
Employers are required to come up with reasonable resolutions so that all parties are accommodated should employees refuse vaccinations on medical or Constitutional grounds, according to a directive gazetted by Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi.
The directive does not make the vaccine mandatory, but places the onus on the employer to take into account its general duties under the OHSA, which mandates the provision of a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of employees and persons other than those employed who may be directly affected, e.g. patients and children at schools, according to the health department.
Rural and Farmworkers Development Organisation executive director Billy Claasen has reported the matter to the Department of Labour.
“I encourage people to take the vaccine because it is the right thing to do. But you can’t force people to take the vaccine. You cannot threaten people to take the vaccine or fire people, because in South Africa they didn’t make it mandatory. It is unacceptable,” he said.
The department said it would respond in due course.
Cosatu provincial secretary Malvern De Bruyn said they were disappointed that there were still employers who were “forcing” workers to take the vaccine and threatening them with dismissal.
“We will follow up on this particular matter and we will engage the farm owners and if there are any dismissals Cosatu will assist its workers and refer the matter to the CCMA,” he said.
District Secretary of the SACP, Lucky Bopape echoed the sentiments, saying the company has resorted to “abusive master slave tactics”.
“As the SACP district we are shocked by the conduct of Pomona Farm management in refusing workers the right to work due to vaccination. In our view this is abuse of power and a violation of labour rights. The company should do more in addressing internal bargaining issues and not resort to abusive master-slave tactics. Rather they must focus on the education of workers and the importance of vaccination during this period of Covid,“ Bopape said.