SA Health and Labour departments weigh in on workplace mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations
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DURBAN - THE national departments of Employment and Labour and Health have weighed in on the debate around companies asking workers to have mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations.
This comes after Discovery Group announced last week that from January 1, all its employees would be required to have received a Covid-19 vaccine.
Adrian Gore, chief executive of Discovery Group, said Discovery intended to implement a mandatory vaccination policy given what it said was a clear moral and social obligation. He said the policy recognised an employee’s right to object and it had built-in processes to manage the objection.
The group said where necessary and possible, there would be exemptions and reasonable accommodation of employees, taking into account operational and business requirements.
It said the process would consider the employee’s health, religious and other legal rights and seek to balance these with the rights of all employees.
Gore said: “We will not follow a blanket approach but will instead use a fair and equitable process that balances the employees’ rights, the safety of our workplaces and operational requirements.”
The national Labour Department said a company taking such a decision would have to undertake a collective bargaining process between the employers and employees in terms of the Labour Relations Act. It said in terms of the guidelines regarding vaccinations in the workplace, “reasonable accommodation” meant any modification or adjustment to a job or to the working environment that would allow an employee who fails or refuses to be vaccinated to remain in employment, and incorporate the relevant portions of the Code of Good Practice.
This might include an adjustment that permitted the employee to work off site or at home or in isolation.
It said the guidelines were intended to guide employers, employer organisations, employees, trade unions, conciliators, arbitrators and the courts in determining the fairness of a mandatory vaccination policy.
Musa Zondi, acting Labour Department spokesperson, said the department accepted that there were companies that would want mandatory vaccinations for their employees.
“Companies must have conversations with their staff members and negotiate. Employees need to understand that companies have the right to re-evaluate if they want to keep the employee if they feel really strongly against vaccination; the employee has the right not to work where they feel strongly against a policy,” said Zondi.
Dr Yogan Pillay, country director, South Africa, and senior global director for Universal Health Coverage, said he welcomed the move of mandatory vaccination. However, he cautioned that it should not be a process of punishing those who chose not to vaccinate.
Pillay said the public still needed to be motivated to vaccinate. “One of the ways would be to create something similar to a healthcare passport that would allow people to attend stadiums and other events and live a somewhat normal life again.”
Popo Maja, Department of Health spokesperson, said there would be no law compelling a person to be vaccinated. “However, there may well be environments where vaccinations become compulsory for access and entry. This would be a decision of the owners of such a facility – for example, a restaurant could say ‘we would only allow persons that have been vaccinated entry so that the safety of other patrons are protected’.
“Similarly, employers could do the same, and where employees refuse to be vaccinated, then the employer must decide how that employee is handled. If all alternatives are not possible, the employer can part ways with that employee,” said Maja.