The need to achieve herd immunity and to get the South African economy going has thrust mandatory vaccination into the spotlight as employers are mulling over this new proposal to achieve economic and social recovery.
Today, the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber in partnership with Joubert Galpin Searle hosted a webinar titled Vaccination in the workplace – mandatory or not?
The discussion, presented by Joubert Galpin Searle directors Rowan Willcock and Leon van Staden, focused on whether employers can make vaccinations mandatory for their employees, and if so, under what circumstances. Central to the debate was balancing public health priorities with ethical and legal considerations.
This follows the gazette on 11 June by Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi of a directive on Covid-19 vaccination in certain workplaces, in the new consolidated direction on occupational health and safety measures.
It stipulates that employers are required to come up with reasonable resolutions so that all parties are accommodated should employees refuse Covid-19 vaccinations on medical and Constitutional grounds.
The principle espoused by the directive is that employers and employees should treat each other with mutual respect. Essential considerations are public health imperatives, employees’ constitutional rights and efficient business operations.
During the webinar, Rowan Willcock, Head of Joubert Galpin Searle’s Labour Division said there is a strong possibility that the Constitutional Court will accept an argument to make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory in the workplace.
“This is essentially based on the employer’s obligation to create a safe working environment and the overwhelming scientific evidence that vaccines are effective in curbing the virus,” said Willcock.
But more importantly, this would help to marginally restore their operations and in turn, resuscitate the ailing economy.
The intention of mass vaccinations is to provide protection to both those who work on the premises and customers from being exposed to infection from the unvaccinated.
Recently, the Covid-19 Command Council announced that the country is facing the possibility of a fourth wave by the end of this year.
Taking into account the effects of the past lockdowns have on the tourism, hospitality and entertainment industries in particular, the projected fourth wave would potentially cause irreparable harm to sectors that have not fully recovered from the impact of the first lockdown.
This poses a threat of further job losses as many of the businesses in these sectors would not be able to sustain themselves.
Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber CEO Denise van Huyssteen said that vaccinations were key to getting the local economy going again.
“As organised business, we are very concerned at the current pace of the vaccination process. It is vital that this is accelerated in order to support economic recovery and in particular for the revival of those sectors which have been most impacted by covid-19 constraints. A vaccination rate of at least 67% needs to be achieved in order to achieve herd immunity in Nelson Mandela Bay.
She added that while the decision to make vaccinations compulsory or voluntary should be preceded by a risk assessment, the Chamber felt strongly that generally vaccinations are key to enabling economic recovery efforts. “We recognise the freedoms of individuals relating to vaccinations, but urge that facts be used as the basis for decision making and not random commentary shared on social media sites.”
“Given the scientific evidence provided to date, on the whole it appears that vaccines are our most effective defence against covid-19 and as such should be widely deployed to enable economic activity to fully resume.”