Telecommunications group Telkom has announced a new mandatory vaccine policy for all employees and non-employees looking to access any of its non-store premises.
In a statement sent to all service providers, the group said that from 1 June 2022, any people looking to access any of its premises will either have to:
- Be vaccinated, or at least provide documentary proof that they are Covid-19 risk-free; or
- Unvaccinated people must provide proof of a negative and valid PCR Covid-19 result, in terms of government regulations, not older than 72 hours.
Telkom said that the vaccine policy will be in place to protect the health and safety of employees and those accessing its premises.
The policy does not apply to its retail stores and customers entering those stores and is only for employees, service providers and contractors.
“Telkom has an obligation to provide a work environment that is safe and that limits the risk to health and safety, as far as is reasonably practicable. This obligation includes eliminating or minimising, the risks associated with exposure to diseases, where the harm of such disease can be minimised by vaccination,” it said.
“Vaccination is a vital tool to reduce the severity of symptoms of Covid-19 cases in the workplace, communities and the nation at large. To this end, the Telkom Group has decided to adopt a mandatory vaccination policy,” it said.
The group encouraged everyone in South Africa to get vaccinated.
Legal standing of vaccine policies
Telkom joins a long list of businesses that have implemented mandatory vaccine policies – including the likes of MTN and Discovery.
Mandatory vaccines remain a controversial topic among the workforce, but several CCMA rulings have consistently found in favour of employers in cases where employees have refused to get vaccinated.
While South Africa’s State of Disaster relating to the Covid-19 pandemic has come to an end – and new regulations in terms of the Health Act and within other government departments are still out for comment – legal experts have maintained that mandatory vaccine policies can legally remain in place.
According to legal firm Bowmans, the primary basis for the implementation of vaccination requirements at the workplace is the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), which has been in force since long before the Covid-19 crisis.
In terms of sections 8 and 9 of the OHSA, an employer has a legal duty to provide and maintain, as far as reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of its employees and others who are directly affected by its activities.
It is not only the employer that has this duty – in terms of section 14, employees are also under a legal duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of themselves and others.
In March 2022, Covid-19 was declared a hazardous material under the Hazardous Biological Agents (HBA) Regulations. The HBA regulations instruct employers to conduct risk assessments and take reasonable measures to control exposure in the workplace.
Such control measures must include, among others, making available effective vaccines for those employees who are not immune to the HBA to which they are exposed.
Heightened immunity in South Africa
Telkom’s vaccination policy also comes as South Africa is seeing heightened immunity to Covid-19 among its population.
According to medical experts, nearly all South Africans now have some form of immunity to Covid-19.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases said last week that South Africa appears to have entered a new phase of the epidemic.
“In this new phase, the high population-level immunity in South Africa likely means that in the absence of a new, more severe variant, future spikes in infections are unlikely to result in large increases in hospitalisations and deaths.”
South Africa currently has the lowest level of restrictions in place compared to any period since the start of the pandemic, and yet the latest wave already appears to have peaked.
The NICD reported 1,662 new Covid-19 infections in South Africa over the past 24-hour reporting cycle.
According to the institute, this represents a positivity rate of some 13.7% and brings the cumulative number of infections to 3,931,534.
The National Health Department reported that some 43,780 Covid-19 vaccinations were administered in the last 24-hour cycle bringing the total number of jabs in arms to 35,794,074.