IT’S a no jab…no jab scenario with companies in Zimbabwe threatening to dismiss unvaccinated employees.
The head of the public commission, Jonathan Wutawunashe, ordered in a circular to government departments that all civil servants – about 250,000 – were considered frontline workers who should get Covid-19 shots.
“All heads of ministries are directed to ensure that all civil servants under their jurisdiction should be vaccinated,” Wutawunashe said.
The Grain Marketing Board (GMB) which Health and Child Care deputy minister Dr John Mangwiro claimed would not accept maize from unvaccinated farmers, reportedly in an internal memo signed by chief executive officer Mr Rockie Mutenha directed that all workers not vaccinated must stay at home as from 1 August.
“GMB provides essential services to the public, as such, we are considered front line employees. In view of that, All GMB employees must be vaccinated in order to protect the public that we serve. All GMB employees must be vaccinated by 31 July 2021. Those not vaccinated by that day should stop coming to work as from 1 August 2021 as they will remain a threat to other employees and other stakeholders that visit GMB depots,” he said.
Mr Mutenha said more than 2 280 workers have not been vaccinated against Covid-19.
“Most GMB depots are in hot spot areas which is catastrophic as the unvaccinated 2 280 employees are coming to work every day and mixing with the other employees and farmers thus potentially endangering their own lives and the lives of other people,” he said.
Mr Mutenha advised workers that the Government has acquired huge quantities of vaccines which are being administered for free at various health facilities across the country.
Investigations by this publication showed companies are taking the vaccination drive seriously or perhaps too seriously using harsh means. Some companies are hiring and firing on the basis of these vaccinations.
Apart from GMB, the City of Harare, Zupco and some supermarkets have taken it upon themselves to go this route.
Mai Maud a lactating mother at one of Zimbabwe’s retail supermarkets as product merchandiser is one of the victims.
At Highfield Polyclinic hoping to get her first dose to secure her job.
Before innoculation, nurses announce that lactating women are illegible for vaccination.
“They started telling us without any formal communication such as internal memos or circulars to tell us to go for vaccination. They started telling us on July 1. I fear losing my job for I have two children with one currently being breastfed,” Mai Maudi said.
On the issue of merchandisers, OK Zimbabwe Operations Executive Vupenyu Gumbo in an emailed response said they do not discriminate against unvaccinated persons.
“The Ministry of Health and Child Welfare has stated that vaccination in Zimbabwe is voluntary and remains a personal decision. This is also our position as OK Zimbabwe where we do encourage our staff members, suppliers and customers to be vaccinated only if it is their choice to do so.Our stores remain fully accessible to everyone as long as they observe all relevant COVID-19 protocols,” he said.
The Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO) issued a notice advising them to get the jab or lose their job.
“We were told to get vaccinated or risk losing our jobs. I am relieved that at this clinic they are giving this vaccine because it has been an arduous three day hunt for it.
“They said by 1 July everyone should get the jab and those who got it should bring the vaccination card as evidence. It was just a paper with no stamp or anything,” said an insider.
The company’s chief executive officer, Mr Everisto Madangwa confirmed it was true that employees lose their job if not vaccinated confirmed it true.
“That is correct. Vaccination is not compulsory. We are encouraging them to be vaccinated for protection against COVID-19. We are not forcing anyone,” he said.
While it is encouraging to get employees in essential services vaccinated sounds inspiring, threatening job cuts is uninspiringly far-fetched.
“In terms of the law, an employment relationship is a legally binding contract or relationship akin to a marriage, which cannot be interferred with or breached by another party willy nilly outside compelling legal grounds recognised by law. A mere allegation that an employee is not vaccinated does not amount to a legally valid ground an employer to breach an employment contract by excluding or locking out any employee from the workplace unless there is cogent medical evidence justifying temporary exclusion of an employee,” said Labour Lawyer Caleb Mucheche.
Mr Mucheche also said, “if an employer wants to permanently bar a health risk employee from the workplace on the basis of covid-19, that employer must follow strict legal procedures for a lawful termination of a contract of employment and payment of applicable compensation to the affected employee not resort to a knee jerk heat/spur of the moment decision. Otherwise any random or arbitrary exclusion of any employee or employees from the workplace purporting to use covid-19 will backfire like a jerk-knife.”
The Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) has been instrumental in rallying communities to get vaccinated with messages such as, “Help stop COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccines are safe and effective at preventing diseases.”
One might wonder why so many people throng vaccination centres. Is it still voluntary or a there is coercive force?
CWGH executive Director Itai Josh Rusike said instead of using coercion and technicalities to force employees to be vaccinated, companies should use persuasive strategies and Covid-19 vaccine literacy to encourage their employees to willingly take up the vaccine jab.
“The Public Health Act Chapter 15:17 only provides for compulsory immunization of children and incapacitated persons – Where there are compelling reasons of public health specifically regarding minors and legally incapacitated individuals, the Minister of Health and Child Care shall by notice in the Government Gazette declare the date on which compulsory immunisation shall take place.
“Informed employee participation and ownership of the Covid-19 vaccination will move towards achieving the required herd immunity of vaccinating at least 60 percent of the population. Even in a Covid-19 pandemic, human rights have to be observed without exception,” he said.
Local COVID-19 expert Dr Tinashe Gede said in an interview on Sunday that frontline workers would get vaccinated noting no coercion was enforced by Government.
Fears, meanwhile are high, that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s remarks that only the vaccinated would board Zupco buses, are coming to fruition.
“We thought he was probably joking but ironically with Zupco having the compulsory vaccination policy, there is no way they can allow us in their buses without being vaccinated,” said a Highfields resident.
The story is published under the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) Investigative Journalism Fund with support from the European Union (EU).