WHILE Covid-19 is destroying lives and livelihoods, a legal debate is developing about whether the mining sector could make vaccination compulsory.
For instance, there is speculation that amendments to disaster management regulations aimed at enforcing the right to a safe workplace could also advance employer wishes for mandatory vaccinations.
An agreement negotiated through the Minerals Council South Africa would be ideal in this regard, but it will be difficult to achieve owing to individual company preferences. In wanting to procure vaccines for their employees, Sibanye-Stillwater and Anglo American are telling employees they would prefer them to adopt vaccination.
To avoid unnecessary litigation and to protect jobs, individual employers and unions need to agree on the approach to deal with the non-vaccinated. This would extend to employees who work together in confined spaces such as miners who work together at the face and get there using a cage.
On the other hand, surface workers, operating in a low-risk environment, and who also need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, will have a stronger argument against vaccination, and an agreement is also required to deal with this situation.
One of the issues is whether non-vaccinated employees will be allowed to physically participate in the wage negotiations.
The list of wage demands may also look very different with Covid-19 having such an impact on lives and livelihoods. The focus will most likely shift to job security.
To counter a union wage demand for a moratorium on retrenchments, employers may see an opportunity to push for mandatory vaccination as a quid pro quo. Productivity will be linked to the aforementioned, and it will strengthen an employer’s motivation for mandatory vaccination when Covid-19-related absenteeism of non-vaccinated employees impacts productivity.
Not all vaccination issues will be subject to negotiation processes as the practical consequences may determine an employee’s fate in certain instances. For example, with a ‘vaccination passport’ that should become mandatory for international travel, migrant workers from neighbouring countries may have no choice but to be vaccinated to be able to travel across national borders.
Employers may also insist that only those service providers whose employees have been vaccinated may provide services at a mine.
It is also likely that mining houses will amend their conditions of service to make vaccination a prerequisite for new entrant employment, which in turn will complicate job-hopping for the non-vaccinated.
Gideon du Plessis, General Secretary of Solidarity