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Nedlac backs mandatory Covid-19 jabs in the workplace a...

Business Maverick

CORONAVIRUS

Nedlac backs mandatory Covid-19 jabs in the workplace and public spaces 

President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Siyasanga Mbambani)

While business, labour, and community representatives have embraced a country-wide mandatory vaccination policy, the government has been on the fence, opting to consult widely before it makes a firm decision. The Cabinet is yet to make a decision on vaccine mandates in the workplace and public spaces.

The government has agreed in principle to mandatory vaccinations in the workplace, the clearest indication that Covid-19 jabs are starting to be compulsory in SA as the fourth wave of infections rages on and threatens to undermine the country’s economic recovery. 

Stakeholders at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) have agreed that mandatory vaccinations in the workplace should be strengthened to prevent the further spread of Covid-19 and heightened lockdown regulations. Nedlac is a policy formulation body that includes representatives from the government, business, labour, and communities. 

The stakeholders at Nedlac have also agreed that access to some public spaces — including music festivals and soccer matches — should be allowed for only vaccinated people. 

While business, labour, and community representatives have embraced a country-wide mandatory vaccination policy, the government has been on the fence, opting to consult widely before it makes a firm decision. The Cabinet is yet to make a decision on vaccine mandates in the workplace and public spaces.

Delivering the keynote address at Nedlac’s annual summit held virtually on Tuesday, employment and labour minister Thulas Nxesi said the government’s health and safety requirements for workplaces in SA “should be strengthened” to make vaccinations mandatory in the workplace. 

Nxesi said vaccine mandates in the workplace should be implemented after employers have conducted a safety and risk assessment that will determine how worker safety can be maintained. If the assessment determines that mandatory Covid-19 jabs are the only way to keep workers safe, Nxesi said employers can proceed with making vaccinations compulsory. “The health and safety direction of the Department of Employment and Labour should be strengthened so that vaccination can be mandatory where a risk assessment at the workplace requires this,” said Nxesi at Nedlac’s summit.

It’s currently left to companies to design their corporate vaccine policies. The government requires companies to conduct a Covid-19 risk assessment in line with occupational health and safety standards, which will allow them to determine whether vaccine mandates are required to keep workers safe in the workplace. Workers may refuse to be vaccinated in terms of their constitutional right to bodily integrity, the right to freedom of religion, belief, or opinion, and refuse on medical grounds. 

But worker rights are not absolute. 

Employers can still implement vaccine mandates after conducting a risk assessment on grounds that they want to, among other things, promote a safe working environment, and protect workers whose job poses a risk of exposure to Covid-19 based on their age and underlying health condition(s). 

Nxesi also said Nedlac stakeholders have agreed that access to certain venues, gatherings, and events in the hospitality and leisure sector “should be restricted to vaccinated people only”.

“Regulations on the maximum capacity of gatherings, venues, and events should be simplified. The provision of regulations should be strengthened so that social distancing can be adhered to. The [Nedlac] social partners believe that vaccine mandates will pass constitutional scrutiny,” he said. 

The Nedlac stakeholders have also thrown their weight behind Business Unity SA’s plan to approach the courts in 2022 for a declaratory order on the legality of workplace vaccine mandates. A court order will determine whether implementing workplace vaccine mandates infringes on worker rights or is in line with occupational health and safety standards. DM/BM

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