As the debate over Covid-19 vaccine mandates continues to divide South Africans, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on Tuesday said it was opposed to mandatory vaccination of workers.
NUM, an affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), vowed to defend workers who refuse to be vaccinated by all means, saying this would ensure that their members are not discriminated against because of their constitutional right to exercise their beliefs.
NUM made the announcement following a meeting of its three-day extended national executive committee (NEC) in Cape Town.
The union’s acting general secretary William Mabapa said NUM continued to support government’s national vaccination programme, but was against mandatory vaccination of workers.
This follows President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement last week on the establishment of a task team that will investigate the feasibility of making Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory in South Africa for specific activities and locations.
Workers forced to vaccinate
Mabapa said their NEC was deeply worried that some mining companies such as Sibanye-Stillwater were forcing workers to vaccinate and required proof of vaccination when entering their premises.
“The NEC is strongly opposed to the decision taken by Sibanye-Stillwater to introduce a mandatory vaccine from February 2022.
“From the start of February 2022, any person entering Sibanye workplaces in South Africa will require proof of vaccination or a valid test showing they are negative for Covid-19. Given the costs of such tests, it is effectively a mandatory policy,” he said in a statement.
“Further, non-vaccinated employees must submit negative PCR test results and the costs associated with such PCR tests will be for the employees’ own accounts. This NUM [this] rejects with contempt.”
Cosatu’s stance on vaccine mandates
While Cosatu initially said it preferred government and the private sector encourage workers to get inoculated instead of imposing vaccine mandates, the country’s largest trade union federation changed its tune after Ramaphosa’s address to the nation.
Cosatu said it would rather support compulsory vaccinations than endure continued lockdowns that have crippled the country’s economy and led to job losses.
At the same time, the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) on Tuesday backed calls for government to make Covid-19 vaccination mandatory by barring unvaccinated individuals from accessing workplaces and other public facilities and areas.
Nedlac is the body that brings together government, business, labour and community organisations to cooperate on economic, labour and development issues affecting the country.
“The social partners have agreed that promote vaccinations and protect the country from lockdowns, workplaces should require employees to be vaccinated to enable occupational health and safety, and that there needs to be access restricted to certain venues, events and gatherings only to vaccinated people,” said Lisa Seftel, Nedlac’s executive director.
The announcement came as more companies in South Africa were adopting vaccine mandates as the country battles the fourth wave of Covid-19 infections, which has been driven by the Omicron variant.
Compiled by Thapelo Lekabe