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Employees can refuse vaccination, but rights have limits

| International retailers

President Cyril Ramaphosa told Parliament that employers had to strike a "delicate balance" when implementing mandatory vaccination programmes, but said every South African had a personal responsibility to ensure the safety of others in the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Khulekani Magubane | News24

Ramaphosa was replying orally to questions in a hybrid plenary of the National Assembly on Friday. The president mentioned the competing interest of the individual right to accept or refuse a vaccine against the responsibility of employers to prevent the spread of the virus in their operations.

Sasol is just one example of a company that faced at least tacit resistance to a vaccination mandate ahead of its month-long shutdown operation at its Secunda plan. 

Discovery announced on Thursday that it would make it mandatory for all staff for get vaccinated from the start of 2022.

Ramaphosa said the Department of Employment and Labour issued guidelines on occupational health and safety measures for employers that planned to make vaccination mandatory among staff.

Factors that must be taken into account include the employee's vulnerability due to age or any co-morbidities they may have, as well as the risks posed due to the employee's role, Ramaphosa said.

Ramaphosa said the implementation of mandatory vaccination must be based on "mutual respect, which achieves a balance between public health imperatives, the constitutional rights of employees, and the efficient operation of the employers' business".

'Rights have limits'

But he acknowledged it might be difficult to achieve this.

"That is quite a delicate balance that needs to be struck. Employees may refuse vaccination on medical or constitutional grounds. In such instances, the employer should counsel the employee and, if requested, allow them to seek guidance from a health and safety representative, worker representative or trade union official, as well as a health practitioner," Ramaphosa said.

The president urged employers to try to accommodate employees who refuse in positions, tasks and functions that do not require the employee to be vaccinated, including functions that allow them to work from home.

But when African Christian Democratic Party leader Reverend Kenneth Meshoe asked the president to commit to ensuring that South Africans would not be denied "the right to choose", Ramaphosa said rights have limits.

"If we can vaccinate a large enough number of people in the adult population by December, we can avoid another devastating wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Those who refuse to be vaccinated are prolonging the risk of the pandemic continuing," Ramaphosa said.

Ramaphosa encouraged South Africans to get vaccinated to prevent another wave of Covid-19 from prolonging the lockdown. He said the Covid-19 vaccines were free, safe and effective. Over 13 million doses have been administered in South Africa with more than six million South African fully vaccinated.

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