Trade union Solidarity says it will institute legal action against those employers who dismiss employees who choose not to be vaccinated.
The warning comes after the Department of Labour published a directive for the introduction of mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations at South African workplaces this week.
Solidarity said it has obtained a comprehensive external legal opinion confirming that employees have a right to choose not to be vaccinated and employers may not deprive them of this choice.
“Solidarity is of the opinion that there is certainty in the directive from the Department that employees have the right to refuse the vaccine on the grounds of Constitutional and bodily integrity reasons and that employers must do everything in their power to accommodate such employees.”
The group argues that it will be illegal for an employer to make vaccinations compulsory without considering individuals’ Constitutional rights such as bodily integrity.
Solidarity chief executive Dirk Hermann said that vaccinations globally will play a major role in the fight against the virus.
He said that this will also be the case in South Africa and that this issue is not about a “for or against the vaccine” debate, but about the freedom to choose.
“The new directive from the Department of Labour’s point of departure is that vaccinations may not be unilaterally compulsory,” said Hermann.
“The directive also stipulates that in highly exceptional circumstances and after proper analysis and consultation, employers can expect employees to be vaccinated in certain work areas. However, we cannot allow people to confuse the exception with the rule.”
The directive, however, determines that even in highly exceptional circumstances, employees still have a choice not to be vaccinated.
Motivations can include medical tests, religious reasons and the Constitutional right to bodily integrity. It is the employer’s responsibility to find alternatives for employees who choose not to be vaccinated.
“Employees have freedom of choice. These directions cannot give employees the right to choose leading to dire consequences at their employers. Forced vaccinations will rather cause more resistance.
“These unilateral decisions that are accepted by some people and employers as the rule, is extremely dangerous. There is no indication at all of such a unilateral compulsory vaccination decision and application by an employer,” said Hermann.
“It is simply unlawful for an employer to unilaterally force an employee to be vaccinated, and one can even argue that it infringes on each individual’s right to bodily integrity.
“We will not hesitate to protect our members with the full power of the law if employers make such drastic decisions,” he said.