While many South African companies are legally required to allow their employees to work from home, the time has come to remove these lockdown regulations, says Busi Mavuso, Business Leadership South Africa chief executive.
Writing in her weekly open letter, Mavuso noted that companies have a responsibility to ensure that employees operate in a safe environment under current regulations.
“The current level 1 regulation still requires employers to enable employees to work from home. This is a regulation whose time has come – the productivity impact and loss of skills transfer particularly to junior employees increasingly trumps any purported health benefit.”
As employees return to the workplace, employers must consider the health risks that exist in the workplace, Mavuso said.
“A company that has no face-to-face contact between employees or customers could not justifiably require vaccines as an essential safety measure.
“But when companies do mandate vaccines, there is a material public benefit externality that arises – they are helping to ensure that the overall South African vaccination rate ratchets up closer to levels needed to reduce deaths and ensure more economic activity.”
While South Africa has now given out over 20 million Covid-19 shots and vaccinated over 27% of its adult population, it is clear that take-up rates are slowing, said Mavuso.
She noted that the country would need to reach 60%-70% to minimise the impact of the virus, with this looking an increasingly unlikely target heading towards the December holiday period.
“Our delivery rate has improved – we have delivered over 1-million doses in three of the last four weeks – but we are at half the 350,000/day rate now needed to reach the 70% target by the end of the year.
“Discovery has estimated that if we reach 60%, we would avoid 25,000 deaths from a fourth wave that could strike in December. At our current rate, we are on course for 50% by Christmas. This may even be a stretch.”
Mavuso said there is growing concern that the campaign will begin to run out of willing recipients, compounded by going into the festive season when people will be away from home and harder to reach.
“For example, evidence is emerging that people who receive the first Pfizer jab are not returning for the second, with Gauteng province recently reporting that a million people had not turned up for their second vaccination.”
To achieve this goal, Mavuso said that both the public and private sectors should consider the introduction of mandatory vaccinations for workers.
Government should explore the use of mandates in the public sector. Healthcare workers at least should be required to be vaccinated, and I can see a strong argument for the same to apply to teachers and others who work closely with the public, she said.
Internationally, both governments and companies have mandated vaccination with a failure to comply is a dismissible offence, she said.
“The legal view is that a similar route could be followed here, given that a refusal to obey a health and safety rule that endangers others amounts to serious misconduct. However, companies can try to accommodate employees who still refuse vaccination, for example by requiring the alternative of regular mandatory testing or isolation.”