Mandatory workplace vaccines explored

Leading business minds say if push comes to shove, companies might be forced to bar unvaccinated employees from coming to work in order to protect others from infection.

31 August 2021 | Health

OGONE TLHAGE







WINDHOEK

Some of the leading business minds in the country say companies will be well within their rights to bar unvaccinated employees from the workplace where infections can lead to fatalities.

Many companies said they will not force employees to take the Covid-19 jab, but they reserve the right of who enters their premises.

There are still pockets of Namibians who refused to get vaccinated – some without the medical and religious reasons some countries have accepted as fair grounds not to get the jab.

Mandatory vaccinations have been contemplated by some, although this is considered a violation of individuals’ right to choose what goes into their bodies.

Critics and experts alike say employers might face resistance if they impose mandatory vaccines at the workplace, advising that encouragement to get vaccinated instead of using force is the most viable solution.

Namibian Sun understands some employers have already begun to subtly coerce employees to get their jabs or risk losing their jobs, with many attempting to interpret the provision in Chapter 4 of the Labour Act of 2007, which deals with health, safety and welfare of employees as well as the rights and duties of employers and employees.

The law places the onus on employers to provide an environment that is safe, without health risks and has adequate facilities and arrangements for the welfare of employees.

Legal dilemma

Labour commentator Herbert Jauch said it may come to a point where the desire to vaccinate could be driven by individual rights on the one hand and collective responsibility, where more and more people feel the need to get vaccinated.

“It might require a change of legislation, but it is not possible under current legislation. It is a dilemma but people cannot be forced to take the vaccination. It is an evolving process,” he said.

Human rights lawyer Norman Tjombe said the matter must be dealt with cautiously without compromising public health, which he described as a “human right”.

“The labour law has a provision that compels employers to ensure environment is safe. Following the high number of deaths and infections, it is widely accepted that Covid-19 is harmful and needs to be mitigated or eliminated, and if vaccines are one of the arsenals the company has, then it must be effected,” he said.

Employers can perhaps adopt tactics such as barring unvaccinated workers from coming to work and other public facilities. In that way, people will be forced to get vaccinated to enjoy public amenities, he said.

He added: “We must still observe the human rights of people and convince them to get vaccinated through informed consent. The integrity of the human needs to be respected, hence this process be a consultative one.”

Meanwhile, the Public Service Union of Namibia (PSUN) said unless the Namibian Constitution changes, employers have no right forcing employees to get vaccinated.

“We understand the predicament but we cannot forget the fact that individuals have the right not to get vaccinated. It is unconstitutional and unlawful and until the constitution is changed, it is tantamount to employee discrimination,” union president Titus Sitentu said.

Brutal business

One of the biggest private employers in the country, Olthaver & List Group, which employs over 6 000 people, said it will support mandatory workplace vaccinations.

The group’s chairperson Sven Thieme said it is the responsibility of every person to protect themselves against Covid-19 by getting vaccinated.

“We are fully in support of vaccinations. We need to take on the responsibility to get vaccinated to protect our loved ones and ourselves,” he said. When asked whether employees should be forced to get vaccinated, he said employees had the responsibility to protect their colleagues in the workplace.

According to him, O&L employees were responding positively to the vaccination drive.

Another employer, Hangala Group executive chairman Leake Hangala, said while it is a personal choice for individuals to be vaccinated, employers are equally allowed to do what they deem fit to ensure the continued operations of their businesses.

“The term ‘forcing’ is not appropriate, because to be vaccinated is a personal choice and right, but also, it’s the right of employers to exercise certain measures to ensure that their businesses are protected and operations can go forward,” he said.

As employers, we have to make provision to ensure that our employees get sufficient opportunity to get vaccinated, Hangala added.

“I am not forcing you to be vaccinated but nobody should come in if they are not vaccinated, particularly if I am giving you an opportunity to be vaccinated… If an employee does not want to be vaccinated, don’t come to my workplace,” he said.

Precondition for employment

According to Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) CEO Gitta Paetzhold, it is necessary for sectors who deal with people on a day-to-day basis to ensure employees are vaccinated.

“You want to instil certainty that the sector is safe and perhaps say if you are not vaccinated, you may not work with people. It could become a precondition in certain sectors that employees be vaccinated to get employment,” she said.

Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) president Bisey Uirab said the NCCI propagated for the rule of law, in all instances.

“At the same time, we implore fellow Namibians to please vaccinate so that we can reach herd immunity. It is only then that we can grow the economy, create more jobs, tackle the disease of poverty and reduce the suffering of Namibians,” he said.

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