South African Breweries considering mandatory Covid-19 vaccine policy

South African Breweries (SAB) says it is considering the introduction of a mandatory Covid-19 vaccination policy for staff across its operations.

SAB, which is part of the Anheuser-Busch InBev group, is responsible for producing some of the country’s most popular alcoholic brands including Carling Black Label and Castle Lager.

The brewer, which employs approximately 9,400 people, said in a statement on Tuesday (4 January), that it will begin a consultation process in January, with a final decision on mandatory vaccines to be made in ‘due course’.

“As a pro-vaccination company, we aim to safeguard our employees in the workplace and aid the country in its drive to overcome the pandemic and recover the economy,” it said.

SAB has been forced to stop selling alcohol four times since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, and has faced numerous sales restrictions as the government introduced numerous regulations to ease the strain on the country’s hospitals.

“The Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect all aspects of the lives of millions of people across the world, and in South Africa the pandemic has had a devastating effect on society and the economy,” SAB said.

“As a result of the previous waves of infections, our industry has been severely impacted by lockdown regulations and alcohol bans, and we believe that vaccination is key to protecting the one million lives and livelihoods supported by the alcohol industry.”

The brewer said that it intends to explore mandatory vaccination to access all its sites – based on the following facts:

  • Covid-19 is an unprecedented health tragedy that has caused significant excess deaths in South Africa;
  • Vaccines are effective and safe and are our best defence against Covid-19 as it reduces severe illness and hospital admissions;
  • Vaccines are freely available, and the issue is no longer one of access but of vaccine hesitancy; and
  • As an employer, we have a legal obligation to create a safe working environment for all employees.

Businesses taking the lead

While the government has remained quiet on introducing vaccination mandates, several businesses in the country have already introduced mandatory vaccination policies – most recently Standard Bank and telecommunications group MTN in December 2021.

MTN said that its vaccine policy forms part of its legal obligations to provide a safe workplace. The policy also recognises the right of employees to apply to be exempted from the policy and/or refuse vaccination on specific clearly defined grounds, it said.

For those staff who are not exempt from vaccinations either through risk assessment or agreed with exclusions but who still refuse vaccination, MTN said it would not be obliged to continue that worker’s employment contract.

“The science is clear. Vaccination against Covid-19 reduces rates of serious infections, hospitalisation, and death,” said MTN group president and chief executive Ralph Mupita.

Companies that have already introduced vaccine mandates in South Africa include:

  • AngloAmerican
  • Aspen
  • BIG Concerts
  • Dis-Chem
  • Discovery
  • ENS Africa
  • EY
  • Life Healthcare
  • Mediclinic
  • MTN
  • Multichoice
  • Old Mutual
  • Right to Care
  • Sanlam
  • Sappi
  • Standard Bank

Institutions that plan to introduce mandates include:

  • Curro
  • Stellenbosch University
  • University of Cape Town
  • University of the Free State
  • University of Johannesburg
  • University of the Western Cape
  • University of the Witwatersrand

Read: Allow GPs to give Covid vaccines: South African Medical Association

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South African Breweries considering mandatory Covid-19 vaccine policy