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Covid-19 vaccination hesitancy comes under the spotlight at Sub Saharan Africa occupational health and safety meeting

11 November, 2021With the African continent being the lowest in terms of Covid-19 vaccinated populations globally, the countries are also facing increased vaccine hesitancy with the few available doses having no takers in some countries, say trade unions from Sub Saharan Africa who are affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union.

However, the unions say the hesitancy can be reversed through awareness campaigns and providing educational information to counter false information mainly from social media platforms. According to the African Union’s African Centres for Diseases Control and Prevention only 5.8 per cent of the continent’s population is vaccinated.

The unions met online on 10 November to discuss health and safety strategies under the Covid-19 pandemic. The discussions included tensions created by vaccine hesitancy which could be eased if government involved unions in their national vaccination plans.

The online meeting, attended by participants from 10 countries organizing in the chemical, metals, mining, textile, and garment, and other sectors discussed how unions were involved in campaigns for vaccination and the respect for workers’ rights.

The unions said mandatory vaccination as proposed by some governments infringed on workers’ rights to choose. Instead, the unions preferred engagement that persuaded workers to get vaccinated. Drawing similarities with the earlier days of the HIV and AIDS pandemic in which there was stigma associated with testing, the unions said lessons could be learnt from the strategies that were used then.

The meeting heard that some unions were conducting initiatives to improve health and safety. Rudi De Koker from the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) said the union with support from employers continued to provide affordable primary health care services to members through its clinics. The South African national department of health has recognised the clinics as part of the Covid-19 vaccination sites and as pilot projects for the national health insurance.

Another strategy that is working to cub hesitancy involve joint efforts by employers and trade unions. For example, Vacus Kun from United Workers Union of Liberia (UWUL) said the union is working with ArcelorMittal in Liberia to promote vaccination, and over 80 per cent of the workers have been vaccinated.

Further, the unions said most International Labour Organization need to have their accompanying codes of practices update to keep up with developments.

“We have conventions that are outdated, yet so much has changed. We need conventions that address our current realities and challenges including the Covid-19 pandemic,”

said Ousman Diop from SNTICS Senegal.

Convention 190 on violence and harassment, which unions want ratified, was highlighted as valuable to curbing gender-based violence and harassment and to improving safety at work.

Health and safety remained at the core of trade union work argued the unions saying members joined the union for safer workplaces through collective bargaining agreements.

Most countries, including Nigeria and Zimbabwe, had laws and regulations that promoted health and safety. However, the Zimbabwe Diamond and Allied Minerals Workers Union (ZDAMWU) said health and safety in the mines is deteriorating with increasing injuries and deaths from accidents caused by non-compliance by mining companies.

“Occupational health and safety cuts across most of the trade union’s activities and is a useful tool for advancing workers’ rights, building union power, and ending precarious working conditions. Due diligence is also about health and safety,”

said Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL director for mining.