/ 6 December 2021

MTN staff members who refuse vaccination will be fired

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MTN is the latest to join a growing list of companies that have made vaccines mandatory, as South Africa battles a fourth wave of Covid-19 and the new Omicron variant

MTN released its statement at about the same time that President Cyril Ramaphosa noted in his latest weekly newsletter that the country was experiencing a rate of new infections not seen since the pandemic started, with the number of daily infections increasing five-fold over the last week.

“Nearly a quarter of all Covid-19 tests now come back positive. Compare this to two weeks ago, when the proportion of positive tests was sitting at around 2%,” Ramaphosa wrote.

“As we enter the fourth wave, and as the country gears up for the festive season, the urgent priority is for more people to get vaccinated. Scientific evidence shows that vaccination is the most effective means of preventing the spread of new infections, and that vaccines reduce severe illness, hospitalisation and death.

“South Africa now has sufficient supplies of vaccines and we have vaccine stations set up in every part of the country. As every day passes, and as infections rise, the reasons to get vaccinated become more compelling and the need becomes ever more urgent,” the president added.

For its part, mobile-network operator MTN said those employees who refused  vaccinations, without a valid reason, would be fired. The vaccine mandate for staff is set to commence in January 2022.

“The science is clear. Vaccination against Covid-19 reduces rates of serious infections, hospitalisation, and death,” MTN group president and chief executive Ralph Mupita said in a statement.

Mupita said MTN had a responsibility to ensure that its workplaces were guided by the highest standards of health and safety, “and that has informed our decision to make Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for our staff”.

“For those staff who are not exempt from vaccinations, either through risk assessment or agreed exclusions, but still refuse vaccination, MTN will not be obliged to continue the employment contract,” he said.

Financial services group Discovery was one of the first companies to announce a vaccine mandate for its staff in September; since then, staff vaccination rates have climbed from 22% at the beginning of September to 94% by 30 November, according to an update.

Other companies, including Standard Bank and Old Mutual, have announced similar moves.

Old Mutual’s policy will come into effect from January and staff will be required to submit proof of their vaccination status. Standard Bank’s policy will come into effect on 4 April 2022.

Some universities have also implemented vaccine mandates, with the University of Johannesburg being the latest to do so. Staff, postdoctoral research fellows and students will need to provide proof of vaccination before entering campus. The policy will take effect in January.

The University of the Witwatersrand, the University of Cape Town and Rhodes University have all also made vaccines mandatory on campus.

According to the government, when making vaccination mandatory in workplaces, the Occupational Health and Safety Act applies. The Act says every employer must take into account its general duties to provide a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of its employees. 

In his 28 November address after the rise of Omicron cases in South Africa, Ramaphosa said the possibility of introducing vaccine mandates would be discussed by a government task team.

Anathi Madubela is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the M&G.