Big business is weighing up whether to mandate Covid-19 vaccines for all workers and fire those who refuse to comply, as part of a plan designed to drive up vaccination numbers in South Africas, curb the rapid spread of the Delta variant and thwart future waves of infections.
Business for South Africa (B4SA), which is made up of Business Unity SA and the Black Business Council and was formed to respond to the Covid-19 crisis, has, in principle, thrown its weight behind the introduction of vaccine mandates in SA.
B4SA chair Martin Kingston said big business has agreed to start “substantive” discussions about how a framework for vaccine mandates can be created and rolled out in a coordinated manner to target unvaccinated workers.
The framework might include steps that employers can take to isolate unvaccinated workers from the workplace, possibly firing them, or submitting them to weekly Covid-19 testing, an expense that they would have to pay out of their pocket.
The discussions over the framework will involve business, labour, government and community representatives at formal negotiation structures such as the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).
Kingston said B4SA and big business are worried about SA’s low vaccination rate – with less than 20% of the adult population fully vaccinated – adding that there is a need to increase the daily rate of vaccinations “dramatically and urgently” before the onset of the fourth wave of Covid-19 infections, which might hit SA as early as mid-November.
“We only have two months to get as many people vaccinated. If one way of encouraging them to be vaccinated is putting in place vaccine mandates – either on a company or sectoral basis – then we, as business and B4SA, support and encourage that,” Kingston, who also sits at Nedlac, said.
It’s currently left to companies to design their corporate vaccine policies and whether to make vaccinations mandatory for all workers. Business giants such as Sanlam and Discovery plan to impose mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations from 2022 but haven’t pledged to fire workers who refuse the jab.
The Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi, has left it to companies/employers 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. Nxesi recently issued guidelines that help employers in finding reasonable solutions to ensure workplace safety.
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