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Vaccination must be based on consent, not force: Zhou

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THE Zimbabwean government should create an all-encompassing participatory negotiation platform involving all civil servants’ representatives and the state to reach consensus on the issue of mandatory Covid-19 vaccination, a union leader says.

KUMBIRAI MACHINGURA

This comes after the government promulgated Statutory Instrument 234 of 2021, which stipulates that every civil servant be fully vaccinated by 15 October 2021 and that failure to comply shall lead to job loss or discontinuation of salary. However, the deadline lapsed last Friday and has since been extended to 31 December, according to media reports.

The statutory instrument gives the government latitude to extend the vaccination mandate deadline to no further than 31 December 2021.

Progressive Teachers’ Union leader Takavafira Zhou says although they are aware of the importance of getting vaccinated, the quandary arises from the government’s failure to engage civil servants’ representatives when implementing the law.

“There was never an engagement between government and civil servants’ representatives, particularly teachers’ unions. The order is, therefore, a unilateral declaration,” Zhou said.

Zhou said public servants should not be subjected to vaccination without their full consent.

“We are encouraging teachers to be vaccinated, but by no means should such encouragement be misconstrued for mandatory vaccination, but voluntary vaccination.”

Zhou said the government’s directive to bar every unvaccinated civil servant from reporting for duty is impractical.

“It is impractical for them to stop going to work based on generic communication that has no specific names. In terms of standard operating procedures, unvaccinated teachers must continue to report for work until they receive a communique specifically in their names informing them to stop coming for work. Verbal instructions from school heads are invalid.”

Initially, many people were sceptical about getting vaccinated due to various reasons such as religion, health condition and inadequate information pertaining to the safety of vaccines. Zhou said the government should approach each case on an individual basis.

“There is need for school heads to compile lists of all unvaccinated teachers at their respective schools, and indicate reasons for non-vaccination and send to districts for onward conveyance to provinces, head office and PSC (Public Service Commission) and wait for formal instructions from these respectable offices. Verbal instructions are legally void in the public service and we hope there will be written communiqué to teachers in the respective schools taking cognisant of reasons proffered for non-vaccination,” he said.

The PTUZ says it hopes the issue of non-vaccination will not be used to settle old scores in schools. Every case must be determined on its merits and administrators, education officials, and the PSC must navigate the predicament professionally.

Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) president Obert Masaraure admitted that the government has not done anything to engage civil servants’ representatives in the implementation of policies to do with mandatory vaccination.

“The government is used to command tactics, they have forgotten that workers and their representatives are major stakeholders in all these government policies. Consultations and engagement must be prioritised first before any attempt to implement a policy,” Masaraure said.

The Artuz president said extending the deadlines without conducting consultations and engagement will not bring the intended results. The government should educate workers on the importance of vaccination. The government must scrap the deadline and stop threatening workers so that the uptake of the vaccine might increase.

“By implementing mandatory vaccination the government is violating the right to freedom of choice of its citizens. The barring of teachers might have a negative effect on the education sector since there is already a longstanding shortage of employees. The government should consider workers from remote areas who do not have access to vaccination centres,” Masaraure said.

He said Artuz supports vaccination, but is against the subjection of employees to mandatory vaccination without being given full information concerning the safety and importance of vaccination.

“As workers’ representative, we have carried out wide consultation with our members and they are saying only if they could receive full information with regards to the safety of getting vaccination”

According to the latest human rights report, countries setting population percentage targets without clear protections for people’s rights open up the possibility of forced vaccination.

The report also indicated that developed countries like China are making use of force and coercion to drive up their vaccination rates. The government of Zimbabwe aims at vaccinating 10 million of the country’s population, representing 60%. So far, the government has managed to attained the global goal of vaccinating 10% of the country’s population.

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