Jabs and jobs: What these top Zimbabwean companies are doing to push staff vaccinations

Zimbabwe needs to invest more in primary healthcare (pic Reuters)

For others, it’s discrimination. But others say this is the new reality of business and industrial relations under COVID-19.

Mandatory vaccinations, around the world, are gaining ground.

In July, the head of the public service commission, Jonathan Wutawunashe, ordered: “All heads of ministries are directed to ensure that all civil servants under their jurisdiction should be vaccinated.”

No unvaccinated worker would be allowed on the staff bus.

Globally, big companies from Facebook, CNN, Netflix to Microsoft, are now telling workers: “No jab, no job”.

What about Zimbabwe? Here is what some major companies are doing to encourage vaccination among workers.

Delta

In August, the country’s biggest brewer gave workers up to the end of the month to get the shot.

Said a staff circular: “Effective 1 September 2021, only employees and contractors possessing proof of vaccination will be allowed to execute tasks at company workstations. Those employees that choose not to be vaccinated shall be required to provide a COVID free PCR certificate once every week at their own cost.”

With a PCR test costing at least US$40 a pop, a worker would have to spend US$160 per month just to avoid the needle.

Seed Co

Seed Co, Zimbabwe’s biggest seed company, bought 10 000 vaccines for its staff and the local community. So, the company says, there’s no excuse for staff not to get vaccinated.

The company has told workers: “The rollout of the vaccinations has started and there is no excuse for anyone at Seed Co not being vaccinated as we strive to create a COVID-19 free workplace. While it is recognised that the individual has a right to choose not to be vaccinated, the company will exercise its right to protect staff by barring entry of all unvaccinated employees and others into the Seed Co buses and premises.”

Those who choose not to be vaccinated must get a negative PCR “not older than 24 hours”. This means getting swabbed daily just to avoid the vaccine.

Residents of Mt Hampden get vaccinated under a joint Seed Co, Cimas and Govt program (pic: Sunday Mail)

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Zimnat

The insurer understands risk, says CEO Mustafa Sachak, and so it is not taking chances.

He told staff there would now be a “policy requiring COVID-19 vaccination for all employees who will work from the company premises”. Anyone seeking exemption “on justifiable medical grounds should submit a written request for accommodation with a supporting doctor’s note”

Econet

In July, Econet founder Strive Masiyiwa addressed workers for the first time in two decades, telling them how disappointed he was at the low turnout for vaccines among his staff.

According to the website 3-Mob: “While not threatening his employees, the billionaire, who said described himself as a ‘nice guy’, said he hoped the conversation would not have to change in a few weeks if attitudes towards vaccination did not change.”

Masiyiwa heads the Africa Union’s vaccine procurement strategy.

Windmill

The fertiliser company is going for more carrot than stick. Normally, staff get one bag each month as a benefit. There will now be an extra bag of fertiliser for staff for those that are vaccinated.

“Windmill staff are all encouraged to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as a way of protecting themselves, their families, their workmates and our customers,” the company said in a circular.

CBZ

Zimbabwe’s biggest bank has told workers they must be vaccinated or show an exemption letter from a doctor explaining why they can’t take the vaccine.

Those who do come up with an exemption letter must, “as a condition of employment…have a certificate confirming a negative PCR result from a laboratory registered by the Ministry of Health and Child Care, which is no more than 72 hours old”.

They must show this certificate before entering company premises or doing any bank business.

CBZ to staff: Vaccine card, or a regular PCR test

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GMB

The GMB, the state-owned grain company with depots around the country, gave staff up to the end of July to get vaccinated.

“Those not vaccinated by that date should stop coming to work from August 1, 2021 as they will remain a threat to other employees and other stakeholders that visit GMB depots,” GMB chief executive Rockie Mutenha said in a note to workers.

N Richards

The wholesaler has told workers and supplier merchandisers to be vaccinated by October 1.

“With the current COVID-19 situation in the country, we feel it is only reasonable that we play our role in encouraging all service providers and merchandisers who work in, and alongside the N Richards Group to get vaccinated,” the company said.

“We appeal to all partners to seriously consider ensuring that external staff working in NR Group branches is vaccinated. Accordingly, the group has taken the decision that it will not permit entry of unvaccinated staff after 30 September 2021.”

Unions: No to ‘compulsory’ jabs

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has gone to court to appeal against what it sees as illegal vaccine mandates.

The ZCTU said in its court papers: “There is no law in Zimbabwe making vaccination compulsory. Each person, having fully considered the implications and effects of vaccination, is expected to make a personal decision on whether or not to get vaccinated and where a person decides to get vaccinated, he or she is expected to make a decision relating to the timing of the vaccination.”

In local employment adverts, the number of companies demanding only “fully vaccinated” applicants is growing.

When HR expert Memory Nguwi ran a LinkedIn survey recently, asking whether vaccinations should be compulsory for workers, 64% out of over 4000 who voted said they were against such mandates. 

But other legal experts say, under a public health emergency, employers may be entitled to prod workers to get vaccinated.

“An employment relationship is not static but responds to conditions affecting the employer’s enterprise,” says leading lawyer Thabani Mpofu, who has argued precedent-setting labour cases in court, most notably the Nyamande & Donga vs Zuva Petroleum case of 2015.

Mpofu added: “This principle will affect many employees and might result in massive job losses. There are binding requirements not explicitly stated in your employment contract.”

Perhaps anticipating action such as th ZCTU’s, companies have given staff a choice, but really an almost impossible one: get vaccinated, or pay for a regular COVID-19 test, through the nose.