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By Eric Naki

Political Editor

Unions change tune again on mandatory vaccination

This follows the rejection of mandates by trade union umbrella body, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), on Tuesday.

The vexatious issue of vaccine mandates could threaten the successful cooperative work being done by the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).

This follows the rejection of mandates by trade union umbrella body, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), on Tuesday.

Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi said the social partners in the Nedlac Rapid Response task team had recommended the health and safety directorate of the department of labour “should be strengthened
so vaccination can become mandatory where a risk assessment at the workplace requires this” and that “access to certain venues, gatherings and events particularly in the hospitality sector should be restricted to vaccinated people only”.

Nxesi said while Nedlac’s social partners believed “vaccine mandates will pass constitutional scrutiny, they support the work of Business Unity South Africa to get a declarator from the Constitutional Court in the New Year”.

He said: “They understand their proposals will be brought to the attention of the NCCC [National Coronavirus Command Council] and other relevant government structures so decisions can be made speedily to improve the
vaccination rate and mitigate the negative impact of a fourth wave.”

Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali told the Nedlac annual summit webinar it was opposed to the mandates and the state must seek an alternative to encourage vaccination.

“We don’t believe you need to govern by regulation; in everything you need to have a social compact with people,” he said.

This is the second U-turn by Cosatu on the matter. The federation initially opposed vaccine mandates, then later supported it, saying mandatory vaccination would help ensure the majority of the population got vaccinated.

Ntshalintshali did not explain why Cosatu flip-flopped on the issue.

On Tuesday, he said “managements had taken a view that [in] working with trade unions and talking to trade unions we are able to make progress quicker instead of forcing people to be vaccinated”.

Nedlac said it had been successful in operating in crisis and with a greater diversity of partners, including those not traditionally part of Nedlac – such as partnering with the taxi industry to promote vaccinations.

Nedlac executive director Lisa Seftel, citing Statistics SA and National Treasury figures, said after a significant deterioration in the early parts of the Covid pandemic – which saw the deficit widen to 12.3% of gross domestic product (GDP) in fiscal 2020-21 – national government finances are projected to consolidate in coming years.

As a result, the deficit is projected to fall to 6.5% of GDP in 2023-24. However, the economy had shrunk and growth prospects remained a concern.

The forecast growth for 2021, 2022 and 2023 would not be sufficient to take real per capita GDP above its pre Covid levels.