Persuade and conquer – NEDLAC agreement on workplace vaccinations

The South African Government, together with members of both the public and private sector, agreed at NEDLAC on COVID-19 workplace vaccine guidelines (Vaccine Guidelines). While the Vaccine Guidelines are yet to be signed and gazetted by the Minister of Employment and Labour, various spokespersons have indicated that the stance taken in the Vaccine Guidelines is one of persuasion rather than coercion.

31 May 2021 2 min read Employment Law Alert Article

At a glance

  • The South African government and stakeholders have agreed on COVID-19 workplace vaccine guidelines, which emphasize persuasion rather than coercion.
  • Vaccination will be encouraged but not mandatory, and workers cannot be dismissed for refusing to be vaccinated.
  • Paid time off will be granted to workers to receive the vaccine, and efforts are being made to increase the number of workplace vaccination sites. Reimbursement for vaccines of uninsured employees and vaccine supply challenges are being addressed. Employers should prepare for managing employee rotations and leave applications related to vaccination.

The key items from the Vaccine Guidelines at this stage, are as follows:

  • workers will be encouraged to be vaccinated and vaccination will not be mandatory;
  • workers may not be dismissed for a refusal to be vaccinated;
  • workers will be granted paid time off in order for them to receive the vaccine;
  • high-risk industries such as the mining sector have also adopted a persuasion rather than a coercive stance;
  • attempts are being made to increase the number of workplace vaccination sites. At present, there are only two workplace vaccination sites, one in the motor industry and another in mining;
  • the position in relation to the re-imbursement of the private sector for the vaccination of employees who are not on medical aid will be announced soon;
  • while the procurement of vaccines remains a challenge, the Government is confident that by the end of July 2021 they will have a consistent supply of vaccines; and
  • registrations for the receipt of vaccines have been considerable low among uninsured persons and remains an area of development.

The position by the Government has been made clear - there is no intention to compel workers to receive the vaccine and that an approach based on encouragement, education and persuasion is the preferred route to the vaccine roll-out.

We await the publication of the Vaccine Guidelines in order to ascertain the exact nature of the obligations of employers. In light of the impending publication of the Vaccine Guidelines, employers must begin to consider the manner in which it will rotate employees who are registered to be vaccinated as well as the manner in which it will manage leave applications to receive the vaccine and leave applications related to any potential side effects thereafter.

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