20/04/2021 - Unions say "No" to forced vaccinations

No Forced Vaccs FBThe government is carrying out a consultation about making COVID vaccination a condition of work for people who are deployed in care homes. Unions are worried about the plan.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Care workers have had a raw deal during this pandemic. While they’ve risked their lives to care for our loved ones, they’ve been rewarded with inadequate PPE, ongoing poverty pay, and no action on zero-hours contracts in the care sector.

Yesterday’s ill-thought through plans will be a further blow to care workers’ morale. We all want to get as many care workers vaccinated as possible. But forcing workers to get the jab will harm trust and employee relations. And it may be discriminatory, leaving employers open to legal challenge.

Ministers should instead strongly encourage every care worker to get vaccinated – and make it as easy as possible. That means giving care workers paid time off for the appointments and taking away any financial worries by guaranteeing decent sick pay for any recovery time afterwards.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Boosting the number of vaccinations in the social care sector is essential for everyone’s safety. But mandatory jabs are the wrong approach and a massive distraction.

Targeting adverts at care staff, lining up already-jabbed colleagues to offer reassurance, tackling misinformation and giving staff time to make the right decision is where the government should be concentrating its efforts. It’s what’s worked in the NHS and in other countries.

Resources should be ploughed into areas of the UK with low take-up rates to persuade rather than coerce nervous care workers. ​Care employers should give staff time off work to make it as easy as possible for all concerned.

Too heavy-handed an approach could backfire badly. Some staff may simply up and go, leaving a poorly paid sector already struggling with thousands and thousands of vacancies in a terrible state. That could damage the quality of care for the elderly and vulnerable, and no one wants that.

Solidarity General Secretary, Patrick Harrington, commented: "We oppose any attempt to coerce workers to have the vaccine. It should remain their personal choice."

Unite national health and safety advisor Rob Miguel said: “This is an area of great sensitivity, with certain aspects causing concern for our members in this sector.

Unite is promoting the uptake of the vaccine when offered, however, this has to be on the basis of consent, which has proved effective in the past. The UK does not generally mandate medical treatment and the union agrees with this position, as well as the recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that the decision whether or not to have the vaccine remain voluntary.

The voluntary route has been hugely successful in ensuring that a high percentage of those eligible for vaccination in the UK have had the jab, with over 30 million having already received at least one dose. There is a danger that any move towards compulsory vaccinations may undermine public support for the programme.

Whilst individuals have an absolute right to choose whether to have the vaccine, Unite is aware that employers could be deemed to act reasonably in certain situations, such as caring for the elderly, to push for employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment. Should this proposal take fruition we have no doubt case law will develop in this area.

However, there will be a wide range of reasons why an employee would not be able to have the vaccine such as disability/medical reasons, pregnancy, race or religion, therefore any blanket policy to make vaccination compulsory will be discriminatory in many cases.

Affected workers must be given advice, information and support to ensure that any issues or concerns are resolved. For workers who are not able to have the vaccine, other options, such as frequent workplace testing, must be fully considered and utilised. We strongly believe that other options must be made available.

Unite will fully support any of its members whose employment is threatened because they are unable or choose not to be vaccinated.