CHARMAINE NGATJIHEUE, SHELLEYGAN PETERSEN and ARLANA SHIKONGO
BUSINESSES reserve the right to enforce mandatory vaccination against Covid-19, provided they can substantiate their decision in line with the provisions of the labour law.
This is according to attorney general Festus Mbandeka, who yesterday responded to a question on the matter at a Covid-19 briefing.
Mbandeka said employers may opt to use a provision of the labour law stating they must provide employees and customers a safe and healthy environment.
He said the labour law also requires of employees to protect others they come in contact with in line with their work.
If it is found that some of these requirements are reasonable and necessary, they may not be found to be unconstitutional, Mbandeka said.
“I think there could be good grounds for doing so in order to minimise the risk of infection,” he said.
He said the reason for introducing additional measures is to encourage vaccination, since uptake is still low.
‘RIGHTS AND DUTIES’
Mbandeka said the country is dealing with a pandemic that is not only affecting the rights of individuals, but in which individuals are posing risks to others.
“The Constitution allows fundamental freedoms we enjoy as people, however, those freedoms are subject to certain restrictions that are reasonable in terms of the law,” he said.
President Hage Geingob yesterday said while individuals have rights, those rights stop where another’s rights begin.
“We all have rights, but we all have duties too … So if I am saying take care of yourself … and you say ‘I have a right to go around and kill myself’, if you come to my establishment I will stop you, because I also have rights there,” Geingob said.
The president yesterday told The Namibian the entire Cabinet has been vaccinated with the exception of one minister.
“When I asked, all of them indicated except for one, who cannot [get vaccinated] at this time,” he said.
A number of ministers have publicly received their jabs, including prime minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, Peya Mushelenga, Iipumbu Shiimi, Kalumbi Shangula and Anna Nghipondoka.
According to Geingob, 15,1% of the population have received a first dose, while 9% of the population are fully vaccinated.
“However, uptake by healthcare workers remains lower in comparison, with only 14,5% fully vaccinated,” he said.
Shangula recently said there has been a declining trend in the number of first vaccination doses received.
“Once we have up to 60% of the population vaccinated, it will help us to live a normal life. When vaccination is one of the effective weapons to help us defeat the invisible enemy, why not go for it?” he asked.
FREEDOM CAN KILL
Labour expert Herbert Jauch says employers have an obligation to protect the greater interest and safety of employees.
“On the one hand, it is an individual’s right to say [whether] they want to get vaccinated or not. It is a human right. The other aspect is the workers’ rights enshrined in the [Constitution]. Employers also have an obligation to provide a healthy and safe environment,” he says.
In recent weeks, there have been reports of businesses and companies requiring employees to be vaccinated, as well as vaccination listed as a requirement for employment.
Vice president Nangolo Mbumba this week said: “Why should somebody who is working with other people [and] living with other people be allowed, with a potential to carry this virus, to bring it home or bring it to work? That freedom can lead us all to get sick, to need hospitalisation and maybe even lose our lives. So let us be reasonable,” Mbumba said.
Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) chief executive officer Charity Mwiya says although it is commendable that businesses want to ensure the safety and health of their staff and stakeholders, employees’ rights should be respected.
However, Mwiya says when companies achieve a high vaccination rate it signals that a workplace is a safe and healthy environment.
“We believe every workplace can be a leader on vaccination. Therefore we also applaud the commendable efforts of a number of our member companies that are leading on vaccination,” she says.
Minister of health and social services Kalumbi Shangula yesterday said the ministry is currently busy with mathematical modelling to predict whether there would be another wave of Covid-19 infections.
“We are also increasing the vaccination campaign to increase vaccination take-up,” he said.
Meanwhile, the country yesterday received 108 000 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines from the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team.
Namibia has also procured 350 000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines from the manufacturer to arrive at a later date.