The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union [NEHAWU] notes with dismay the circular issued by the Department of Public Service and Administration [DPSA] on mandatory vaccination for employees in the public service.
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly been a catastrophic moment beyond any measure and we have had to endure the devastation brought about this global crisis of COVID-19 pandemic. There have been great strides and efforts made in the fight against this pandemic and key amongst those is the development of the various vaccines. These vaccines have contributed greatly in protecting people from severe illnesses, hospitalisations and deaths.
As NEHAWU, we are on record having called on government to procure vaccines and speedily roll-out the vaccination programme to our people in order to commence with the rebuilding process of our country.
The national union is shocked and utterly disgusted by the circular issued by DPSA on mandatory vaccination of public servants. We must perhaps remind DPSA in case they have amnesia that South Africa is a constitutional democracy and the Constitution is the supreme law of the land which cannot be violated by anyone even the President of the Republic.
There are established bargaining councils where conditions of service in the public service are deliberated on and agreed to. It is very unfortunate that DPSA saw it necessary to mislead employees against the commitment of President Ramaphosa who on record had assured the country that no one shall be forced to take the vaccine. The lies spread around by DPSA that parties are discussing the compulsory vaccination in the public service shall not be accepted or tolerated by the national union. Truth to be told, the employer has not tabled this matter in the council and to suggest that we are already talking on it is incorrect and misleading.
Indeed, the union supports the government efforts to have all employees vaccinated but not at the expense of their constitutional right and cannot be forced. As NEHAWU, we have long called on the government to take the vaccine to the people to ensure that more and more South Africans are vaccinated. Whilst we support the vaccination programme, our view is that it should not be forced down the throats of public servants. Workers have rights and must be consulted on any matter that concern their conditions of service and it cannot be correct for the employer to unilaterally change these conditions. To remind the public, this is the same government who dismally failed to provide PPEs and to comply with the Occupational Health and Safety [OHS] Act to guarantee the safety of its employees at the workplace when needed the most during the viciousness of COVID-19 from all waves (1 to 3).
Now, DPSA as a representative of government has the audacity to force workers to vaccinate at this level of COVID-19 restrictions and at a level within which the pace of vaccination has accelerated. Where was this department when it was need the most by public service workers amidst COVID-19 pandemic? Many public service workers died without any protection from the same employer who all of a sudden creates an impression of caring government yet even refused to give the same public servant their salaries in order to combat the devastation and hunger brought about by COVID-19.
The Bill of Rights [Chapter 2] of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa is the cornerstone of our democracy and as such they must be respected, worse by a government who presides over a society whose rights are regulated by the highest law of this land. In fact, the Constitution dictates that the state must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights.
As NEHAWU, we shall never allow a situation where DPSA shows total disregard to our Constitution which protects and guarantees the individual right to bodily integrity under Section 12(2)] and also in Section 15 which protects their right to freedom of religion, belief and opinion.
NEHAWU shall never allow DPSA to change conditions of employment of workers arbitrary and subject workers to such a treatment of forcing them to vaccinate. We want to send a strong warning to the department that we won’t stand idle whilst they abuse workers by taking their Constitutional right away from them.
NEHAWU calls on the DPSA to immediately withdraw the circular and ensure no worker is forced to take a vaccine. All South Africans have a choice to either vaccinate or not based on their individual reasons, be it medical or constitutionally.