Business groups push back against Nedlac's call for mandatory workplace vaccination

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South Africans are anticipating President Cyril Ramaphosa will either announce a vaccination mandate or the tightening of lockdown restrictions.
South Africans are anticipating President Cyril Ramaphosa will either announce a vaccination mandate or the tightening of lockdown restrictions.
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  • The National Economic Development and Labour Council wants mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations in the workplace.
  • The National Employers' Association of South Africa said this recommendation was constitutionally problematic.
  • The National Liquor Traders' Association said vaccines were a better solution to the pandemic than harsh lockdowns or banning the trade of alcohol.

While the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) has announced that it backs Covid-19 vaccination mandates at the workplace and restrictions to public gatherings for the unvaccinated, two business groups have pushed back against the proposals.

Nedlac executive director Lisa Seftel told the council's 26th annual national summit on Tuesday that it would send a recommendation to the National Joint Operation Intelligence Structure of government in support of vaccination mandates in the workplace where needed.

Seftel also said that as an incentive to drive up vaccination numbers in the midst of the fourth wave driven by the Omicron variant, that access to public gatherings including restaurants and sporting events should be limited only to the vaccinated.

Government is under pressure to come to grips with the latest wave in a manner that does not batter the South African economy and South Africans are anticipating President Cyril Ramaphosa will either announce a vaccination mandate or the tightening of lockdown restrictions.

National Employers' Association of South Africa (Neasa) CEO Gerhard Papenfus said in a statement that the recommendation by Nedlac that vaccinations in the workplace should be made mandatory was disappointing.

"The only business body on Nedlac is Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), which claims to be the voice of business, but is, in fact, only a mouthpiece for big business and monopoly capital.

"BUSA does not speak on behalf of the majority of businesses in South Africa and, predictably, ignored the contrary views in respect of mandatory vaccinations voiced by a number of other business bodies and representatives," said Papenfus.

Papenfus said Nedlac conceded that a mandatory vaccination policy was likely to face constitutional difficulties as BUSA sought a declarator legal certainty. Seftel told Fin24 that Nedlac was confident that a needs-based workplace vaccination mandate was constitutionally consistent. 

"Should such a declarator be sought, Neasa will intervene in the court proceedings as it believes that blanket mandatory vaccinations will be a gross violation of human rights and will set an extremely dangerous precedent for the future," Papenfus said.

Meanwhile, the National Liquor Traders' Association convenor Lucky Ntimane called on Ramaphosa to be guided by science in determining the course to be taken in dealing with the fourth wave, but said consultation could not be overlooked in such interventions.

"Vaccination key to managing the pandemic, but other interventions should be pursued, as the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and Cabinet meet to discuss the implication of the fourth wave and the effects of the Omicron variant on our country," said Ntimane.

Ntimane said the association was seriously concerned about the possible Covid-19 lockdown and trade restrictions that could potentially be announced soon due to the Covid-19 new Omicron variant, which may include a ban on alcohol sales.

"[This] will have devastating effects on the economy but more directly on the jobs. At the heart of it, taverns, who account for 250 000 jobs in the township space, will be the hardest hit, in an environment where we are still trying to recover from the previous alcohol bans," Ntimane said.

He said vaccination was key to managing the Covid-19 pandemic and that the association would support all government efforts to get people vaccinated, but that banning alcohol is not a sound strategy in fighting the pandemic.

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