President Ramaphosa affirms rights of employee and employer on Covid-19 vaccines

03 September 2021 - 15:26
A delicate balance needs to be struck on workplace vaccinations, says President Cyril Ramaphosa. File photo.
A delicate balance needs to be struck on workplace vaccinations, says President Cyril Ramaphosa. File photo.
Image: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa says workers have a right to decline Covid-19 vaccinations on medical and constitutional grounds, but employers equally have a right to protect employees and ensure efficient operation of their businesses.

Ramaphosa said implementation of mandatory vaccinations must be based on mutual respect and constitutional rights in what he described as “quite a delicate balance that needs to be struck”.

He made the remarks on Friday during an oral question and answer session in the National Assembly. He was responding to a question from ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe, who wanted to know what measures government was planning to put in place to protect workers from being forced to be vaccinated by their employers.

“No-one should be forced to be vaccinated. Instead we need to use the available scientific evidence to encourage people to be vaccinated to protect themselves and the people around them,” said the president.

“At the same time, our occupational, health and safety laws require that we ensure a safe working environment. This situation poses challenges for employers who want to keep their workers safe from Covid-19, while respecting the rights of those who don’t want to be vaccinated.”

Ramaphosa said employers needed to determine the category of employers to be vaccinated, taking into account the vulnerabilities due to age and comorbidities.

“Employees may refuse vaccination on medical or constitutional grounds. In such instances, the employer should counsel the employee, and if requested, allow them to seek guidance from a health and safety representative, trade union official and a health practitioner.

“If necessary, steps should be taken to responsibly accommodate the employee in a position that does not require the employee to be vaccinated. It could range from either the employee continues to work from home, without being in contact other employees or customers/clients, or work from a place where they don’t interact with others and spread the virus,” he said.

The president said it was “totally bizarre” that some people were anti-vaccination when there has been clear evidence that Covid-19 vaccines reduce the chances of severe illness and death.

“The Covid-19 vaccines are the most effective instruments we have to prevent deaths, reduce infections and restore economic and social life of our country.

We have scientific evidence that vaccines do work. Let us be a nation that does things based on science and facts.
President Cyril Ramaphosa

“We have scientific evidence that vaccines do work. Let us be a nation that does things based on science and facts.”

While it remained unclear if the country would be hit by another wave of infections, the president said those who refuse inoculations place the country at risk, and this would also affect SA's already battered economy.

“If we can vaccinate a large enough proportion of our population, particularly the adult population, by December, we can avoid another devastating wave of infections and restrictions on the economy.

“Those who refuse to be vaccinated are increasing the risks for all of us, not only of a further resurgence of infections, but of prolonged economic hardship and lack of recovery. We therefore all have a responsibility to encourage South Africans over the age of 18 to get vaccinated.”

Meshoe asked Ramaphosa to assure South Africans that they would be protected from mandatory vaccination, or what he labelled “new form of apartheid”.

The president maintained his stance that vaccination would not be imposed on anyone. However, he said, “we are saying vaccination has been proven to have a very positive effect in saving lives and reducing infections.

“I do not buy into the notion that this is being done by authoritarian, dictatorial governments around the world to force people to be vaccinated. If we do not take steps to get people vaccinated so we have population immunity, our health services could be overrun.”

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