No Vaccine, No Work: UK

LONDON. Some British companies are planning to give their workers a stark choice this year: Accept the coronavirus vaccine or lose your job.

Labour rights groups have come out against the policy, dubbed “jabs for jobs,” arguing that mandatory vaccines would not stop the spread of the virus but could lead to discrimination on socio-economic and ethnic grounds.

“A ‘no jab, no job’ approach will be counterproductive,” said Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union, a Swiss-based group that represents more than 2 million service workers worldwide. “To make workplaces safer, employers cannot take shortcuts, and that is what these proposals are.”

In Britain, two private elderly care home companies, employing more than 20 000 people between them, have said they will require vaccinations for staff, citing concerns about the spread of the virus in a sector that has seen a large proportion of Covid-19 deaths.

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Care UK announced last week that vaccinations would be required for any new staffers. Another firm, Barchester, announced shortly before that it expected all workers to be vaccinated by April 23, though it said that there would likely be an exemptions for pregnant staff.

Supporters of the “jabs for jobs” policies in care homes have pointed to the reports of low uptake of the vaccine among elderly care home staff, which stood at around 52 percent in London last week, according to government officials.

But these policies may not be limited to care workers. In January, the chairman of Pimlico Plumbers, a London-based maintenance company that employs around 400 people, said he expected all of his staff to get the vaccine to continue working.

“No vaccine, no job,” Charlie Mullins announced in an interview with financial newspaper City AM. “When we go off to Africa and Caribbean countries, we have to have a jab for malaria — we don’t think about it, we just do it.”

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Vaccine uptake has historically been high in Britain without mandatory requirements, but even before the pandemic some doctors were urging a move toward a stricter system. The coronavirus may hasten those concerns.

UK chief medical officer Chris Whitty said last month that he expected the coronavirus vaccine to be “a norm” for health-care workers. “There’s an expectation if you’re a surgeon, you’ve got to get a hepatitis B vaccine. So it’s not that this is completely new territory,” Whitty told the Evening Standard.

The Daily Mail week that the government was reviewing if workers in Britain’s state-run National Health Service could be required to accept coronavirus vaccines.

The report drew critical responses from groups that represent doctors and other medical workers. “Forced vaccinations are the wrong way to go and send out a sinister and worrying message,” Christina McAnea, general secretary of UNISON, Britain’s largest union.

Private employers may face a different calculation. While vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi said last month “it is obviously up to businesses what they do,” other government guidance has suggested that forcing existing employees to take the vaccine may be illegal.– Washington Post