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CCMA receives complaints of people being fired for not taking the Covid-19 vaccine

Photo: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Photo: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Published Nov 19, 2021


Gauteng: Covid-19 vaccines are not mandatory in South Africa and yet some employers have started firing or retrenching unvaccinated employees and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) director Cameron Morajane has confirmed that so far they have received 10 referrals which they have “redlined” or flagged as matters of national importance.

Last month, the Labour Department ruled that companies which make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for their staff would have to compensate their workers should they suffer side effects, illness or death from the jab.

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And President Cyril Ramaphosa had declared in one of his “family meeting” statements that Covid-19 vaccines are not mandatory. But he clearly left the door open for individual companies and establishments to formulate their own policies.

Discovery - one of the largest medical aid scheme administrators in SA - in September said it would make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for all employees from January 1, 2022, to ensure the safety of employees.

Then last month, mining service partner Fraser Alexander said it would also be implementing a mandatory vaccination policy from January 1. The company said it would require proof of vaccination from its employees, sub-contractors and service providers.

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These companies were joined by the University of Cape Town who announced a variety of restrictions for unvaccinated students who may also not be allowed back on campus from January 2022.

Then PSG chief executive, Piet Mouton, called for the imposition of mandatory vaccinations and said this was a necessary step for the battered SA economy to open up. In an open letter to the public, Mouton said people who choose not to be vaccinated should be denied entry to restaurants, public parks, shopping centres, airports, business and educational institutions.

Asked for comment, Discovery chief operating officer Ronald Whelan said the company’s approach to protecting staff has been guided by the latest scientific research, evidence-based clinical insights and data. He said the company has lost 22 employees and more than 14 000 clients as a result of Covid-19 related illness.

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“As a result, we feel compelled to do everything possible to protect our employees and our customers, particularly given extensive global scientific evidence and Discovery’s own real-world data conclusively demonstrating that Covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective.

“The objections process will consider all health, religious and other legal rights and seek to balance these with the rights of all employees across the group,” said Whelan.

Fraser Alexander did not respond to our questions.

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However, human rights activist Schalk van der Merwe insists that employees who reject forced vaccination from their employers are enforcing their rights and are protected by the Labour Relations Act and the Constitution.

Van der Merwe’s advice to employees is that they should not accept bullying, threats, bribes, coercion, disciplinary action or suspension for exercising their human rights against forced Covid-19 vaccination. He implored workers to say: “I am exercising my Non-Derogable Right in terms of Chapter 2 of The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 108 of 1996, as Amended. I choose not to receive a Covid-19 vaccine. Furthermore, I exercise my rights as an employee and remind you of Section 192 (2) of The Labour Relations Act, Act 66 of 1995, as Amended, read with Schedule 8 of the Act. If I am dismissed unfairly, I will refer the case to the CCMA, Bargaining Council if applicable or the Labour Court”.

Van der Merwe, who is also a lawyer, said he has already received more than 5 000 complaints of human rights infringements against employers who have forced their staff to vaccinate.

“The issue of vaccination became very clear to us that, especially in the workplaces, there is huge human rights abuse going on. Because it is a good right of every citizen of South Africa in terms of our Constitution, but now you find that the employer infringes on those rights to get vaccinations going.

“We were expecting 100 or 200 people (when he started the campaign), but the floodgates opened. We are sitting with thousands of human rights infringements. People send me WhatsApp messages and send their complaints. This is what is going on in the workplaces in South Africa.

“I am sitting with 5 000+ complaints already of people being forced and human rights being infringed. They (workers) are threatened with dismissals and with all kinds of things,” Van der Merwe said, adding that his campaign started with all the companies that have instituted a mandatory vaccination for their employees.

“We also have complaints of injuries coming through where people were forcefully vaxxed. Some are now suffering from organ failure, strokes and other illnesses. In Secunda, (a petrol company) forced its contractors to vaccinate and the people became sick.

“There seems to be nearly 4 000 people that have been affected by vaccine injuries. And there’s about 3 000 more people that I have to sift through and see if it is a real vaccine injury or something else,” he said.

“There’s a constitutional matter and my law attorneys are doing the case and because I have too much information, I am going to be a party to that case.”

Sociotherapist Raynauld Russon cautioned that vaccines were still on trial, although in the final stage and accused the government of pushing experimental vaccines in violation of the Nuremberg Code of 1947 guidelines.

“The Pfizer vaccine is scheduled to complete its last stage trials in April 2023 and J&J is also doing the Sisonke 2 trials using our health front-line workers which is rather absurd to say the least. Is our government and our president being economical with the truth? Are they pushing a vaccine that is still experimental without following the guidelines of the Nuremberg Code of 1947?

“Employers also risk being in contravention of this code if they introduce mandatory vaccines because the code requires voluntary consent and extensive disclosure,” he said.

Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said the union has received some complaints of workers being told by their employers that they must be vaccinated or face dismissal.

“We are intervening in those instances, including helping the workers to register their cases with the CCMA. We are also engaging those employers to reverse the dismissals and to persuade the workers on why it’s important for them to vaccinate,” he said.

Pamla said Cosatu strongly supports the need for everyone to vaccinate as they have been proven internationally to be safe and highly effective in saving lives, but cannot support dismissing workers.

“Cosatu believes compulsory vaccine mandate is not helpful and in fact a distraction. The only way to get people to vaccinate is to persuade them. Cosatu's affiliates are working with employers through our shop stewards to engage workers to address concerns and resolve problems," said Pamla.

Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union general secretary Lerato Mthunzi also said they have been receiving complaints, enquiries and lodging of grievances from their members on the ground.

“They have complained that they have been experiencing intimidation, victimisation and are forced to take vaccines. What we know is that the first roll-out was not mandatory and not all health workers decided to be part of Sisonke J&J vaccination trials. Because they understood them to be a trial and to be part of a research you would have to be concerned. That in its sense has not changed and that is our understanding that we are still on trial.”

National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) spokesperson Lwazi Nkolozi said South Africa is a constitutional democracy and the Constitution is the supreme law of the land which cannot be violated by anyone, even the president. He said even though the union has called on the government to produce vaccines and speedily roll-out the vaccination programme, it does not support forced and mandatory vaccination of workers at the expense of their constitutional rights.

“Our view is that it should not be forced down the throats of workers. Workers have rights and must be consulted on any matter that concerns their conditions of service and it cannot be correct for employers to unilaterally change these conditions,” he said.

Nkolozi added: “Nehawu shall never allow the government and employers to change conditions of employment of workers arbitrarily and subject workers to such a treatment of forcing them to vaccinate. We won't stand idle while they abuse workers by taking their constitutional rights away from them," Nkolozi said.

National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said the union strongly encourages vaccination, and that they have not received complaints.

The Sunday Independent