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Monday, November 29, 2021

Trade Union Solidarity To UCT: Scrap Mandatory Vaccinations Or See You In Court

Trade union Solidarity is calling on the University of Cape Town (UCT) to review and scrap its policy of mandatory Covid-19 vaccination, saying it is a major infringement on the constitutional rights of students and the institution’s employees.

This follows last week’s announcement by UCT’s vice‑chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng that the university’s council had approved, in principle, a proposal requiring all staff and students to provide proof of vaccination for campus access.

The policy is expected to take effect from 1 January next year.

Solidarity’s youth manager Paul Maritz on Thursday said their lawyers had sent a letter to UCT’s management on Tuesday. They are calling on the institution to reject the new policy because they believe it is unlawful and discriminates against students and employees who, for whatever reason, do not want to get jabbed.

Maritz said the union preferred that UCT incentivises students and staff to get vaccinated rather than forcing them to do so.

He did not rule out the possibility of Solidarity pursuing legal action if the institution does not yield to their demands.

“We are saying if legal action is needed then that is the route that we will walk, but we hope UCT moves away from this idea of mandatory vaccinations and rather encourage students and staff by means of rewards or non-coercive measures.

“We think that this is the global standard in any case. We look at universities like the University of Cambridge that don’t force vaccinations but have rather encouraged students and we think that’s actually the way to go,” he said.

According to Solidarity, UCT’s primary mandate is to train students for the workplace and not to promote vaccination.

Despite UCT saying most of its staff and students are in favour of the new policy, Maritz said they believe that it is irrational and unfair.

Solidarity also contends that it is inconceivable for the university to issue such a policy at this time of the year given that the academic year is about to conclude.

It also raised concerns that prospective students who have already applied to study at UCT were not consulted on this.

“At this time of the year, students and prospective students have already reached an advanced stage of the application process for next year. This policy means that many students will now have to look for alternatives at short notice and, in many cases, it may already be too late to do so.

“This policy changes, as it were, the university’s admission requirements and it is not within UCT’s power to randomly tamper with such conditions,” Maritz said.

Maritz said they hoped to receive feedback from UCT by the beginning of November on their demands.

UCT’s executive is expected to report back to council – the university’s highest decision-making body – in December on the establishment of a panel that will develop the operational details required to implement the new vaccination policy.

This includes the principles and guidelines for exemption from a requirement to provide proof of vaccination.

The proposal requires that all staff, as a condition of being able to perform their duties, and students, as a condition of registration, provide acceptable proof of having been vaccinated against Covid-19.

“The UCT Council discussed this complex matter fully and took into consideration a range of diverse views at a meeting held on Saturday. Council resolved that the university executive should proceed to establish an appropriately constituted panel, whose task would be to develop the operational details required to implement the campus access dispensation as referred to above, including the principles and guidelines for exemption from a requirement to provide proof of vaccination.”

Phakeng said UCT’s Executive would be required to report back to the council with these plans in a December 2021 meeting.

As part of our engagements, UCT staff and students were also invited to complete a short survey on the matter, she said.

“The majority of staff and students who completed the survey supported a mandatory vaccination policy for UCT. The UCT Senate voted overwhelmingly in favour of mandatory vaccination at their last meeting in September, with 83% of respondents in the ballot indicating support. The UCT College of Fellows has also released a statement supporting vaccination at UCT.”

The university said that it continues to encourage those who have not yet been vaccinated to do so as that will help keep down the rate and the severity of Covid-19 infection.”

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