Should vaccinations be mandatory for drivers?

Should vaccinations be mandatory for drivers?

Mandatory vaccination is a topic that polarises people. Some wholeheartedly support the concept, while others dismiss it with contempt. There is very little “grey area”. Recently, Canada came under fire for introducing mandatory vaccinations for truck drivers. Should South Africa be doing the same?

I’m going to nail my colours to the mandatory vaccination mast up front: I think it’s an outstanding idea. In fact, I think it’s the only way that our planet will ever normalise again.

I’m in esteemed company when it comes to this standpoint. Explaining the need for mandatory vaccination policies (MVPs), Adrian Gore, Discovery Group chief executive, notes that we are living during a devastating infectious disease pandemic that can and must be managed to create safe workplaces and for the socio-economic benefit of society as a whole.

“Based on our actuarial projections, over 30 000 lives can be saved if we are able to vaccinate over 60% of our population over the coming months. Vaccination is our country’s best hope of reaching population immunity, defeating the pandemic, and restoring our national vibrancy and way of life. We need to act, and boldly so,” he stresses.

I concur. This needs to happen, especially in countries such as South Africa where the vaccination rate is so low. A ridiculous 28% of South Africans are fully vaccinated, which is as embarrassing as our Euro 2 regulations (don’t get me started on that either). People in our country clearly either aren’t bright enough or informed enough to get vaccinated voluntarily. So, that decision needs to be taken away from them.

We need to start with the doctors, nurses, teachers, and people in what Australia terms “high-risk workplaces”. These include hospitals and healthcare facilities, residential aged care facilities, disability residential facilities, correctional and detention facilities, and homeless shelters. Then we need to move on to workers who have the potential to place large numbers of people at risk.

Truck drivers would fit the bill. A recent study in Uganda concluded that truck drivers are a core group for Covid-19 transmission in that country. “They have generated significant local transmission, which now threatens a full-blown epidemic unless strict controls are put in place,” the report noted. There are numerous other studies that place truck drivers firmly in a high-risk (in terms of Covid) profession. For instance, a study in Kenya found that “two-thirds of lorry-driving crews in Kenya sampled between January and April 2021 showed signs of prior infection of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2”.

So yes, vaccinations should be mandatory for truck drivers too. I can imagine the howls of protest at this statement. This has certainly been the case in Canada, where hundreds of trucks and thousands of people have blocked the streets of central Ottawa in protest. The same would almost certainly happen here.

But would it even be legal to introduce MVPs? The anti-vaxxers will say no. They have rights. Vaccinations are an infringement on their human rights, they protest.

Maybe… but maybe not.

A recent ruling by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) concerning MVPs sheds some light on the matter. In what is seemingly the first arbitration award issued by the CCMA pertaining to an employee refusing to vaccinate in accordance with a company’s MVP, the CCMA ruled that the dismissal of an employee who declined to be vaccinated in line with such policy was held to be substantively fair.

The matter in question pertains to Theresa Mulderij v Goldrush Group (GAJB 24054-21). According to Daniel van der Merwe, provincial manager (Eastern Cape) for the Consolidated Employers Organisation, the employee applied to be exempted from being vaccinated. “Her reasoning was based primarily upon three different grounds. Firstly, that of S12(2) of the Constitution, which entitles every individual to inter alia bodily integrity. Secondly, she felt under pressure between choosing between vaccination and her livelihood. More specifically, she had to waive any form of recourse against pharmaceutical companies in the event of any side effects caused by the vaccination. Thirdly, she had, at all times during the pandemic, been vigilant in observing the various rules pertaining to social distancing and had as yet not contracted the virus,” explains Van der Merwe.

The Commissioner ruled in favour of the employer. “What is important to note from the Commissioner’s ruling is the fact that the employer draws an inference that the employee – by refusing to be vaccinated in line with the MVP – does not want to participate in the creation of a safe working environment,” comments Van der Merwe.

In coming to his decision in the current matter, the Commissioner also relied on a memo which was drafted by Judge Roland Sutherland, the Deputy Judge President of the Gauteng High Court. The memo, as quoted directly from the Commissioner’s award, reads as follows: “There has been, as yet, only mild protest that this (adopting a no-vaccination-no-entry policy) violates the freedom of choice… In my view, this is the wrong question. The proper question is whether or not an individual is sufficiently civic-minded to appreciate that a duty of care is owed to colleagues and others with whom contact is made to safeguard them from harm. If one wishes to be an active member of a community then the incontrovertible legitimate interest of the community must trump the preferences of the individual.”

Does a truck driver have that same duty of care to safeguard others from harm? I think so. In fact, I think we all do.

Published by

Charleen Clarke

CHARLEEN CLARKE is editorial director of FOCUS. While she is based in Johannesburg, she spends a considerable amount of time overseas, attending international transport events – largely in her capacity as associate member of the International Truck of the Year Jury.
Prev Ctrack leads the way with continuous innovation
Next Lost in the forest

Leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.