Business to approach Constitutional Court over vaccine mandates in South Africa

The government says it supports plans by its partners at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) to introduce vaccine mandates in South Africa.

Nedlac is the vehicle by which government, labour, business and community organisations seek to cooperate, through problem-solving and negotiation, on economic, labour and development issues and related challenges facing the country.

Addressing a Nedlac meeting on Tuesday (7 December), Labour minister Thulas Nxesi said that the group is expected to approach the Constitutional Court for a legal declarator on vaccine mandates in 2022.

Nedlac has recommended that mandatory vaccinations should be implemented in workplaces, while certain venues only be accessible to those who are vaccinated. Gatherings, events and the hospitality sector are all expected to introduce mandates.

“The social partners have agreed, that to promote vaccination and protect the country from lockdown, workplaces should require employees to be vaccinated to enable occupational health and safety and that access should be restricted to certain venues and gatherings only to vaccinated persons,” said Nedlac executive director Lisa Seftel.

While businesses can already introduce mandatory vaccinations in South Africa, they need to apply for express permission, and they cannot force staff to get vaccinated. They are also required to find alternative positions for employees who cannot get vaccinated for health reasons.

President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed that further discussions around mandatory vaccinations are set to take place this week, as part of a meeting with the National Coronavirus Command Council.

In a national address on 28 November, Ramaphosa said that government plans to introduce mandatory vaccinations for certain activities. The government has set up a task team that will undertake broad consultations on making vaccination mandatory for specific activities and locations, the president said in his address.

“I’ve said that I want this to happen very quickly because, with the rising wave of infections, I need to act quickly so that Cabinet can take a decision on this matter.

“Of course, it could all be slowed down by the intensity of consultations and talking to various sectors of our society. I expect the (timeline) to be fairly quick, and we’ll allow a report that says, ‘We are consulting. We will meet this constituency and that constituency.’ I’ll listen to that, and, if need be, I’ll also be willing to engage with some of those constituencies.”

Asked about his view on vaccine mandates, Ramaphosa said that while he recognised the issue was divisive, strong leadership was needed to ensure people move in the same direction.

“I believe very strongly in vaccinations, and vaccination is our strongest weapon against Covid-19. I believe that we should give our people a chance so they can go through this and see the dangers of not being vaccinated.”

Read: Showdown over mandatory Covid-19 vaccines in South Africa