Employees have the right to refuse to be vaccinated: Department of Labour

By Sentleeng Lehihi for SABC News

The North West Labour Department says the recently Amended Consolidated Direction on Occupational Health and Safety Measures in Certain Workplaces cannot be used to force workers to vaccinate.

The department insists that workers who are unfairly dismissed for refusing to vaccinate must report the matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) if no internal process is available.

This follows a SABC News report where Tyeks Security Services employees alleged that their employer had informed them that it is mandatory for all workers to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

Last week, a SABC News item highlighted the plight of Tyeks Security Service employees, who raised concern about being forced to vaccinate.

“We received a letter forcing us to get vaccinated whether we like it or not, failing which, you lose your job and the way the president spoke he was clear that the vaccination is voluntary. Vaccination should not be mandatory,” said one of the workers.

“My one question is what will happen to my health when I get vaccinated unwillingly because I always have complications because of my chronic condition,” said another worker.

Labour legislation

While vaccinations remain voluntary, the Labour Department recently released an Amended Consolidated Direction on Occupational Health and Safety Measures in Certain Workplaces, to provide guidelines for employers to make vaccinations mandatory.

According to the new directions, while not every employee poses a risk of transmission of severe disease, the employer can determine whether an employee is required to be vaccinated by identifying those employees who pose a risk of transmission or risk of severe COVID-19 disease or death due to their age or co-morbidities.

Vaccination is not mandatory

Provincial Chief Inspector for the Labour Department, Boikie Mampuru says employees have the right to refuse to be vaccinated.

“Any employer obviously wants to make the operation to be efficient. In that sense, he must then develop a risk assessment that will mitigate against COVID-19. What we are saying is that if there is an employer who wants to force people to be vaccinated, the dispute can be handled internally. If there are no dispute mechanisms, the employee has a right to lodge for an unfair dismissal, which normally is handled by one of the entities of the Department of Labour which is CCMA.”

North West Health Department Spokesperson, Tebogo Lekgethoane, echoes the same sentiments.

“To date vaccination is not mandatory in South Africa. However, the department encourages vaccination in order to attain population immunity. People who are vaccinated stand a better chance of resisting the severity of the illness if they do contract the virus. The understanding is that even the new occupational health and safety measures do not make vaccines mandatory.”

The confusion created by amended legislation

Labour Analyst, Mamokgethi Molopyane says the ambiguities in the new directions have created more confusion than solutions.

“When there is no clarity and instead of clarity there is ambiguity. Where it is open for interpretation, often what happens is that the employer will simply say that, ‘Well, I am enforcing it as I see fit per my company or my workplace but also in the industry that I work in’. And so that leaves many workers vulnerable to being compelled or forced by the employer to be vaccinated, to show the proof of vaccination.”

Tyeks Security Services’ response to allegations

In a written response, the legal services manager of Tyeks Security Services Jethro Makaye has refuted claims by employees that the directive to vaccinate is a ploy not to renew their contracts. Makaye says their employees are deployed in high-risk environments where they are in daily contact with high volumes of patients visiting facilities for medical attention.

He adds that the company is obliged to provide a safe working environment to employees.

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