Mandatory vaccines should not lead to job losses, says Blade Nzimande

Unvaccinated staff can be put in separate offices while others can work from home, he suggests.

Higher education minister Blade Nzimande says that the university vaccination policy is accommodating, and it provides students and staff with an option to apply for an exemption through a structured process, allaying fears that mandatory vaccination policies could lead to job losses at some of South Africa’s tertiary institutions.

Nzimande, who has previously stated that institutions are within their rights to introduce mandatory vaccination policies, suggested that those who are not vaccinated can be accommodated in separate offices while others can indefinitely work from home.

“We do not believe the policy will lead to job losses as the policy generally has the support of staff through consultation with stakeholder unions. There are a few staff who have indicated that they will not vaccinate, and we believe they will apply for an exemption. Those receiving exemptions could already have their own offices or could be provided with dedicated areas,” he said.

But some employees, such as medical staff required to train students in laboratories, cleaners, gardeners, and student support staff in student affairs, residences and financial aid offices, will not be able to perform duties without coming to campus.

“We will continuously engage these staff on the best options for them to be able to do their duties within the Occupational Health and Safety Act. If all this fails and there is still a refusal by the staff member to apply for an exemption, then together with the employee we will engage in a fair process to resolve the matter,” he added.

More companies, including health and life insurer Discovery, Standard Bank and pay-TV giant MultiChoice, have moved to introduce mandatory vaccination policies.

Universities that have introduced compulsory vaccination policies include Wits, University of Cape Town, University of Johannesburg and University of the Western Cape.

Nzimande acknowledged that unvaccinated students may face more difficulties than university staff members due to the vaccine mandates.

“Some programmes, especially in the faculty of health sciences and natural sciences, require students’ physical presence for laboratory work and assessments. Students in performing arts also need to be present in person. There are also programmes in other faculties that require assessments to be in-person to assure the integrity of such assessments,” he added.

Cosatu, South Africa’s largest trade union federation, has indicated its support for mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations.