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Parliament at odds with Nehawu over ‘mandatory’ Covid-19 vaccinations

28 June 2022 - 22:45
Nehawu has rejected a call for mandatory Covid-19 jabs for parliament workers. File photo.
Nehawu has rejected a call for mandatory Covid-19 jabs for parliament workers. File photo.
Image: REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo

The battle lines have been drawn in parliament with the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) rejecting an instruction for staff to get Covid-19 vaccinations or be prepared to do PCR tests at their own expense when they head to the legislature.

On June 10, then acting secretary to parliament Baby Tyawa wrote to parliament employees: “All employees of parliament are encouraged to vaccinate. Employees who are not vaccinated should have a valid Covid-19 negative test when going to the precinct which will be for their own cost.

“Those employees whose work poses a risk of transmission or a risk of severe Covid-19 disease or death due to their age or comorbidities will be requested to vaccinate or [be] handled according to a context specific approach.

“Parliament will allow time off and carry the cost of transport to the vaccination site for those employees electing to vaccinate. Parliament will provide support to employees in the form of information, consultation and counselling where needed.”

Nehawu, which represents an overwhelming majority of parliament’s workforce, has rejected Tyawa’s call.

Nehawu branch chairperson Sthembiso Tembe responded five days later, objecting to the “unilateral and draconian top down decision”.

Tembe said while they had been supporting all measures put in place to mitigate and shield parliament from the negative effect of the coronavirus, there was no national legislation that empowers employers to force workers to go for mandatory vaccination or Covid-19 tests.

He charged the “unilateral directive” was in violation of a recognition agreement between Nehawu and parliament management.

Tembe cited a clause which he said made it mandatory for parliament management to consult with the union regarding changes to conditions of service before the implementation of such changes.

“You would agree that the magnitude of your unilateral directive should have been preceded by an extensive consultation with organised labour. In this regard, I can confidently confirm no such consultation was held,” he said.

“It is on the basis of the above that we resolutely and vehemently object to such directive, and no employee of parliament should be forced to comply with such an unprocedural and unreasonable directive which seeks to undermine the union and its members.”

Tembe cited opinion from parliament’s own legal services, which he said advised Tyawa to encourage workers to vaccinate as opposed to mandatory vaccination.

Tyawa said her communication was based on the interest of all in the continuous effort to mitigate the impact and transmission of Covid-19.

She insisted a consultation meeting had taken place with Nehawu on May 5 when a risk assessment report was presented to the union and the issue of introducing mandatory vaccination was recommended in the assessment report presented.

Tyawa said she asked parliament’s legal services for advice on vaccination and they did not indicate it was illegal to ask employees to vaccinate, especially considering that parliament employees interact with a high number of South Africans.

She said compliance managers working with Nehawu in the rapid response task team will assist with some matters and ensure there is simple communication and easy to understand messages.

“It is regrettable communication meant to assist all of us in the mitigation was not clear enough.

“Officials of parliament must be able to continue doing the work of parliament while also taking all precautions to mitigate any likelihood of infection as is reasonably possible,” she said.

She invited Tembe to recommend solutions that would ensure their colleagues would avoid falling ill with the virus.

In response, Tembe maintained there was no consultation with the union and even if there was, they would not have agreed “with such an unreasonable decision”.

“We stand available to be consulted by the (newly appointed) secretary and management of parliament in this regard, but you will find it hard to convince us to agree to such a decision,” he said.

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