Face-off over vaccine mandates

Face-off over vaccine mandates heats up

Lawyers acting for the National Employers’ Association of South Africa (Neasa) and four other business organisations have sent a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa objecting to mandatory Covid-19 vaccination.

The four other organisations are Agri North West, Sakeliga, TLU SA and the Southern African Agri Initiative.

The letter says the five organisations “are opposed to state-driven mandatory vaccination policies and monitoring mechanisms such as vaccine passports, penalisation and exclusion of unvaccinated persons, and regulatory obligations on business to aid and enforce mandatory measures”.

The attorneys say their clients have not been consulted about compulsory vaccination, and “any process which purports to have done so is flawed”.

The letter was also sent to the Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs and the Minister of Health.

In a media release (dated 3 December), Neasa said the letter followed “incorrect statements” by the president, in his televised address on 28 November, indicating “broad agreement” on the need for a state-driven policy of mandatory vaccination from business, among others.

It said “blanket statements” to the effect that business supports state-driven mandatory vaccination and monitoring are “false, misconstrue reality and point, at the very least, to severe shortcomings in government’s consultation processes. In truth, there is significant opposition and disagreement not only among businesses, but in society in general about such measures.”

Asked on Sunday (5 December) about his personal view on vaccine mandates, the Daily Maverick quoted Ramaphosa as saying: “We live in a country where people have a number of strong views for and against, and my task as a leader is to march everyone in the same direction and, through the dialogue that I said we should have, I hope we get everyone to move in a direction where we will all be aware as South Africans about the dangers of not being vaccinated.

“I believe very strongly in vaccinations, and vaccination is our strongest weapon against Covid-19. I believe that we should give our people a chance so they can go through this and see the dangers of not being vaccinated.”

More corporates to require vaccinations

Neasa’s letter comes as the list of corporates implementing vaccine mandates has grown over the past few days, with MTN (with effect from January 2022), Old Mutual and Standard Bank (from 4 April 2022) joining, among others, Discovery, Curro Holdings, Life Healthcare and Mediclinic.

Anglo American also plans to implement vaccine mandates next year, tailored to each country in which it operates, after carrying out “a comprehensive engagement process with our employees and other stakeholders”.

“We expect there may be differences in exactly how and when the policy will be implemented across the group due to local contexts and legal requirements,” the commodity producer told Moneyweb.

Anglo has some 95 000 employees and contractors globally.

Daily Maverick versus Panda

The issue of vaccine mandates has occasioned the latest round in the battle between the Daily Maverick (DM) and Pandemics Data and Analytics (Panda), the global advocacy group led by South African actuary Nick Hudson.

On 2 December, the DM published an article by Webber Wentzel Attorneys advising employees who want to object to mandatory vaccination not to use Panda’s Workplace Medical Disclosure Letter – South Africa.

The law firm said the letter contained “several factual and legal inaccuracies”, which it discussed in the article.

Webber Wentzel said employees who object to their employers’ vaccination policy should formulate their own personally held views and beliefs and present these to their employers in the form of a “refusal to be vaccinated”.

“Then work with your employer constructively in assessing and validating the reasons and determining ways in which these may be reasonably accommodated.”

Panda published a response on its website the next day.

It said although “a conciliatory approach is always advisable, the reality is that Panda has been approached by a great many employees asking for assistance and advice in circumstances where employers have, unfortunately, been neither fair nor principled in their approach to employees who choose not to vaccinate”.

The response concluded: “The fact remains that the extent to which vaccines prevent infection or transmission remains contentious.”

In February this year, the DM ran a feature article accusing Panda of “amplifying discredited and unscientific views and voices”.

As a result, Panda took the DM to the Press Council, which dismissed the complaint (save for requiring that a statement be corrected), and it lost an appeal against that decision.

Meanwhile, on Friday, freelance journalist Ivo Vegter, who has been one of Panda’s strongest defenders, published an article in the Institute of Race Relations’ Daily Friend outlining why he no longer regards the organisation as a credible source of information.

Vegter said Panda has “gone down the alt-right anti-vax conspiracy rabbit hole, from which they can never emerge”, and “the Covid-19 and vaccine misinformation they spread kills people”.

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