New Covid code at workplace sparks a debate

New Covid code at workplace sparks a debate

The new code of good practice for Covid and vaccination issues in the workplace, which was gazetted on Tuesday, has sparked debate.

It is the code that will govern the end of the state of disaster directives in a new time. The code states that all employers “must take measures to determine the vaccination status of their workers”, according to the latest instructions by the department of employment and labour for managing Covid in the workplace.

Labour analyst Richard Chemaly said the new code of good practice was empowering to employers who were capacitated to engage in thorough and far-reaching Covid prevention policies.

“The content of the policies is largely left to the employer,” he said.

“Where it favours the employees is that in response to Covid risk, an employee may refuse to work if they can make a valid case for their risk. Employees who refuse to vaccinate won’t have any protection from this code.”

He said while the code doesn’t directly affect students, it may have indirect consequences in that staff may refuse to work if the institution does not have a thorough policy on engagement with students.

“This could, in turn, empower universities to apply strict policies on vaccination or other preventative measures.”

However, student activist Sithembile Nkwanyama said many students wondered where the new code of good practice leaves them.

“I wish it could outline something about us, would we be refused to go back to class,” she said.

Meanwhile in a series of tweets, public health lawyer Safura Abdool-Karim said the regulations brought a critical change to vaccine mandates. “The consolidated directive that first introduced vaccine mandates required a valid ground for objection,” she said.

“If objections were on constitutional or clinical grounds, an employer would consider accommodation, not otherwise.”

The new code indicates that objecting employees will be accommodated regardless. This puts employers who followed the first directive in a difficult position, Karim said.

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