'No jab, no job?' - Education dept says no teacher is compelled to get Covid-19 vaccination

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(Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)
(Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)
  • The department says teachers are not compelled to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
  • It said reports of "no jab, no job" were "misinformation". 
  • The department has vaccinated more than 500 000 workers. 

The Department of Basic Education says it at no stage compelled employees to be vaccinated for Covid-19. 

On Wednesday, the department said it had noted reports regarding a circular it had distributed on 23 July, signed by Director-General Mathanzima Mweli.

The department said these reports were "misleading and misinformation".

"The 'no jab, no job' narrative emanating from an article carried in a Johannesburg-based newspaper earlier this week has seemingly created confusion and fear among educators."

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The department said the circular strongly recommended that its workers to be vaccinated, but at no stage did it seek to compel them.

"The department is also aware that an extract from the seven-page circular has been shared on social media platforms, resulting in unnecessary anxiety and panic among teachers who did not vaccinate."

The department said the circular was to provide guidance regarding the operational requirements for educators employed in terms of the Employment of Educators Act of 1998, following the implementation of the sector's vaccination programme. 

"The circular also serves as a guide to managing vulnerable employees in the context of the current pandemic. The department has strongly recommended that education sector personnel should get vaccinated, but at no stage did DBE seek to compel employees to be vaccinated.

"In fact, in the circular, the department says that 'it respects the rights of educator who opt not to be vaccinated on constitutional, religious, cultural, comorbidity or medical grounds'."

The department added that teachers who opted not to vaccinate, or were concerned about their comorbidity or medical condition/illness, should apply to the relevant provincial departments for leave. 

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It added that the teachers would be dealt with according to leave and sick leave provisions in terms of the Employment of Educators Act. 

The department said teachers who were also not in a position to satisfactorily perform their duties required of them or because of medical condition, such matters will be handed in terms of the Labour Relations Act read in conjunction with the employment of educators' act.

It said:

Where an educator simply refuses to report for duty without a valid reason and based on a reasonable instruction by the employer, such matters will be handled in terms of the disciplinary procedures of the Employment of Educators Act. The circular seeks to provide steps that must be taken to accommodate teachers who are not able to vaccinate for a variety of reasons.

The department urged workers to apply the contents of the circular appropriately to meet the intended objective of assisting in creating stability in the schooling system under the Covid-19 conditions.

In the circular, the department said while it was not mandatory for teachers to be vaccinated, it had put the necessary measures in place to ensure that teachers felt safe and were encouraged to take the vaccine. 

"Educators that have opted not to take the vaccine and those who have taken the vaccine are also required to report for duty when schools reopen," it said. 

The circular also stated that, after considering the educators' reasons for opting not to be vaccinated, "the employer reserves the right to deal with such educators in terms of either operational requirements, incapacity procedures as contemplated in terms of the Labour Relations Act, No. 66 of 1998 read conjunction with the Employment of Educators Act, No 76 of 1998".

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It also stipulated that, while it respects the rights of teachers who opt not to be vaccinated - on constitutional, religious, cultural, comorbidity or medical grounds - they would be required to submit detailed medical reports showing how taking the vaccine would "pose a health hazard" to them. 

Schools reopened on Monday for the third term. The department's drive has managed to vaccinate more than 517 000 workers out of 582 000.

At the close of the programme in the sector, more than 517 000 education personnel out of 582 000 had received their vaccines.

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