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 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).
B4SA’s Kingston said big business has accepted that vaccine mandates are “deemed to be in the public good and consistent with the current government regulation” and are “not a contravention of human rights”.
The big question is whether employers should fire workers who refuse to be vaccinated.
Said Kingston: “If you do not want to be vaccinated, then the employer is obliged to ascertain whether alternative work is available. When all options have been explored, the employer has the right to commence the due process with respect to terminating the employment of the individual concerned.”
Possible job losses over the refusal to take the vaccine might pit employers against trade unions representing workers. Cosatu is already concerned about workers being possibly pushed into a corner to get the vaccine, with Matthew Parks, the labour federation’s parliamentary coordinator, saying that SA’s trade union movement wants to work with employers to protect worker rights.
“We support an approach to vaccinations premised upon educating, persuading and incentivising people to vaccinate, not one that is based upon coercion or punishment. That will only serve to distract us when we all need to focus on convincing everyone on why they need to vaccinate,” Parks, who also sits at Nedlac, said.
Big business believes that South Africa’s only fighting chance against future Covid-19 variants and lockdown regulations that undermine economic activity is getting more vaccines into arms. Incoming Business Unity SA president Bonang Mohale believes that the roll-out of vaccines in the workplace and taking the jab to people’s homes through door-to-door programmes should be the next priority to increase the country’s vaccination numbers.
The private sector should lead the initiative on door-to-door vaccinations, said Mohale. “Business is much better at project management, delivering megaprojects on time, on budget and in full. Meanwhile, the government always misses its targets.” – Business Maverick