Business anticipates that employers will be legally challenged for implementing mandatory vaccination policies and is working on launching an application for a declaratory order on the matter.
Business For South Africa (B4SA) on Monday afternoon held a briefing on instituting vaccine mandates. B4SA is an alliance of business people working with government and other social partners to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the weekend, following the identification of the new Covid-19 variant Omicron, B4SA called on government to restrict access to public indoor areas - that are not required for emergency use - to vaccinated people only.
On Sunday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that a task team has been established to consult about making vaccination mandatory for specific activities and locations.
Martin Kingston, chairperson of the B4SA steering committee, on Monday endorsed mandatory vaccination. He said that this is necessary as the country can't afford to move beyond adjusted alert level 1 as there is no fiscal capacity to offer support to individuals and small and medium enterprises.
"We recognise we have no fuel left in the tank in terms of being able to provide the requisite support to individuals and small and medium-size businesses that are impacted," said Kingston. He explained that B4SA was turning its attention to having vaccination mandates rolled out as quickly as possible, not only in the private sector but also in the public sector.
But the business sector is aware that employers may be legally challenged for implementing mandatory vaccination policies.
Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) CEO Cas Coovadia said that work is being done to file an application for a declaratory order in mandatory vaccinations.
BUSA is still consulting with its legal team and senior counsel on the matter. A declaratory order would give businesses "confidence" that if they do apply a mandatory vaccination policy that it would be within the context of the law, explained Coovadia.
"'Our legal advisers are looking at cases that might come to court, where businesses [which have] applied mandatory vaccination are being challenged … If we can use some of those cases and throw our weight behind those and get legal clarity, then we will do so. The intention is to get legal clarity as soon as possible," said Coovadia.
Both Kingston and Coovadia noted that in places where vaccines are mandatory, there has been an increase in vaccinations.
Coovadia said that mandatory vaccination is part of employers' responsibilities to ensure a safe workplace.
"This is not a business, labour or society issue. We are doing this based on science. Science says the best weapon against the virus is to vaccinate as many people as possible and as quickly as possible," said Coovadia.
He said that Ramaphosa's new task team that will look into the matter, is a step in the right direction and business intends to give its input.