Mandatory vaccination at workplaces should be finalised – Nxesi

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The labour minister wants discussions on a mandate finalised to ge the economy back on track. Photo: iStock
The labour minister wants discussions on a mandate finalised to ge the economy back on track. Photo: iStock

BUSINESS


Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi said on Tuesday that the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) and their social partners want South Africa to prioritise the finalisation of discussions around mandatory vaccination in the workplace and want access to certain venues, gatherings and events – particularly those in the hospitality sector – to be restricted to vaccinated people.

Nxesi was speaking at the 26th Nedlac Annual National Summit under the theme “Recovering and Building Together” where he said the social partners – government, organised labour, organised business and community-based organisations – believe that the promotion of vaccines remains the most significant intervention to prevent further spread of Covid-19 and the implementation lockdowns.

“More recently, the social partners have taken up the issue of workplace initiatives to vaccinate employees, while also taking forward the debate on mandatory vaccination.

Nxesi said: 

While the social partners believe that vaccine mandates will pass constitutional scrutiny, they support the work of Busa [Business Unity SA] to get a declarator from the Constitutional Court in the New Year.

He was quoting from Nedlac’s input into the economic reconstruction and recovery plan.

The minister added that with regards to mandatory workplace vaccinations, Nedlac has proposed that the health and safety direction of Nxesi’s department be strengthened so that vaccinations can become mandatory where a risk assessment at the workplace requires it.

“They [Busa] understand that their proposals will be brought to the attention of the National Coronavirus Command Council and other relevant government structures so that decisions can be made speedily to improve the vaccination rate and mitigate the negative impact of a fourth wave,” he said.

When asked about the constitutionality of a forced vaccination mandate, Nxesi replied: “This is why we are going to the Constitutional Court to get clarity. We as a country have rights and there are going to be debates about individual and collective rights.

“The social partners believe vaccination mandates will pass constitutional scrutiny,” Nxesi said, adding that the issue of health and vaccinations goes far beyond the workplace and that it affects all communities.

READ: Omicron: We knew this was coming – Ramaphosa

Nxesi said Nedlac’s early response to the pandemic to introduce occupational health and safety regulations to safeguard the workplace from Covid-19 has worked.

“And this is evidenced in the lower rates of infection in the workplace than in the community,” said Nxesi.

The minister also said the mandating of vaccinations is critical as it is tied with the country’s economic recovery. Nxesi said the pandemic made the past two years very difficult and that since the start of the pandemic, and the subsequent lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus, the country had faced enormous economic pain.

“In the first year of the pandemic, GDP fell by 7% and we lost well over two million jobs.”

Nxesi said: 

The pain continues and is reflected in the most recent Stats SA unemployment rate – rising to 34.9%.

The minister told the summit that President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday also said vaccination and combating Covid-19 is inextricably linked to economic recovery, adding that as a result of the dire economic and employment situation, the need to speed up implementation of the Economic Reconstruction Recovery Plan has increased.

“We need to revive the tourism sector, recognising the huge setback as a result of what has been called the ‘apartheid travel bans’.

“We must also prioritise public infrastructure development, ensuring energy security, drive industrialisation or localisation, introduce mass public employment programmes, bring in macro-economic interventions and enablers of growth as well as green economy interventions and pay special attention to agriculture and food security,” said Nxesi.

READ: Omicron: Task team to explore mandatory vaccination

He said for maximum impact, there was a need for social partners to promote local procurement of locally manufactured goods.

“Cooperation between the private and public sector is important to achieve these goals, while government continues to work hard in developing industrial financing and incentives, and supportive regulatory systems informed by inputs from social partners,” he said.


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