In recent weeks, several major South African companies announced plans to implement mandatory vaccination policies for their staff or people who use their premises.
This comes after labour minister Thulas Nxesi gazetted a directive on Covid-19 vaccination in the workplace in early June.
Legal experts are divided on whether mandatory vaccination policies are allowed under South African law.
Assuming that mandatory vaccination policies are legal, firing an employee for refusing to get vaccinated is not a simple process.
Labourwise founder Jan Truter has explained the pre-dismissal considerations that apply in the case of mandatory vaccinations are significantly more onerous than the requirements in most other situations where the termination of employment is considered.
Employers must first perform several steps before the retrenchment of an employee can take place, including performing a risk assessment, developing a vaccination plan, and educating employees about vaccination.
Ames Dhai, a professor at the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics at Wits, wrote that the directive implies that employers and employees should treat each other with mutual respect.
“Essential considerations are public health imperatives, employees’ constitutional rights and efficient business operations,” Dhai explained.
“On the face of it, this means that the directive does not make the vaccine mandatory, but places the onus on the employer to take into account its general duties under the Occupation Health and Safety Act, which mandates the provision of a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of employees and persons other than those employed who may be directly affected.”
Dhai said employees and other relevant individuals must not be exposed to hazards to their health or safety but emphasised that not every employee poses a risk.
“These include those who work from home or whose work is such that they are not ‘people facing’ and hence not in close working contact with other workers or the public,” Dhai stated.
The summary below shows which South African companies will implement mandatory vaccination policies and their reasoning behind the decision.
Around mid-August, Curro CEO Andries Greyling told Fin24 that the private education group would implement a mandatory vaccination policy by the end of the year.
This decision was taken after the education department sent out a formal communique that it was moving toward making it mandatory for its staff to get vaccinated.
Greyling said Curro would now consult with those teachers who did not get vaccinated during its bulk vaccination effort in July.
“If they’re not willing to accept that the Covid-19 vaccination is now mandatory to create a safe teaching and learning space, then as an employer, we are allowed to consider our options, which may include retrenchments,” Greyling stated.
“We will continue to ensure that the rights of individuals are respected at all times, but there is no beating about the bush when it comes to the safety of our staff, learners and parents.”
“Teachers work with children, and we have to make sure we offer a safe environment,” he added.
Discovery’s announcement of a mandatory vaccination policy came during its annual financial results on 2 September.
The company said the policy applies to all of its 12,950 employees and all suppliers who work in its buildings, effective from 1 January 2022.
In doing so, it became the first JSE-listed entity to support mandatory vaccinations.
The company maintained it was legally and morally obligated to implement the policy and that its approach was in line with multinationals like Disney, Netflix, Google, and Facebook.
Following Discovery’s announcement, Africa’s largest insurance company confirmed it was busy formulating a mandatory vaccination policy.
This will apply to all its employees in South Africa, except in exceptional cases.
“We would prefer to vaccinate as many of our employees as possible. However, some people may have valid reasons for not vaccinating, such as medical conditions. Such exceptional cases will be addressed in terms of the group’s relevant policies,” the company told Fin24.
The main reasons given for the policy were workplace safety and preventing loss of life.
Mining company Sibanye-Stillwater is also “seriously considering” making Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for its staff.
CEO Neal Froneman called Discovery’s decision the right move during a presentation on the firm’s safety, ESG, and gold operations on 9 September 2021.
“This is a debate around people that are resisting taking the vaccine, but we have to look after the company as well,” he said.
Froneman cited the expensive cost of Covid-19 safety protocols as another factor to take into account.
“I think it will become a worldwide phenomenon where work in places where people congregate is only going to take place when people are being vaccinated,” Froneman stated.
The company has around 84,000 employees across both its South African and North American operations.