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Union campaign pays off as Covid-19 vaccination rates hit 74% in South Africa’s garment sector

8 December, 2021One of the unions leading the Covid-19 vaccination campaign for workers in South Africa is the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU). The union’s tireless awareness and educational campaigns for workers to take the jab and adhere to Covid-19 protocols are paying off.

To promote workers vaccination, IndustriALL affiliate SACTWU entered into a strategic agreement with employers to facilitate vaccination through the union’s primary health care clinics. A report from the Covid-19 Vaccination Rollout Campaign Framework Agreement that the union signed with employers’ state:

“Out of a sample of 33 906 persons registered with the clothing industry's health care clinics, a total of 25 107 (or 74%) have now been vaccinated.”

The vaccination rate is more than double the national average of 35 per cent.

SACTWU says the report showed that out of 320 hospital admissions of garment workers, 295 (or 92 per cent) were unvaccinated, 21 (or 7 per cent) partially vaccinated and 4 (or 1 per cent) fully vaccinated.

Further, of the 56 Covid-19-related deaths recorded among the garment workers, 49 (or 88 per cent) were among the unvaccinated, 7 (or 13 per cent) partially vaccinated and none among the fully vaccinated, concludes the report.

“The union clinics are providing an essential service to workers and communities. When I went to the clinic, I got some education on why the vaccine is crucial in protecting me from Covid-19. I am now using this information to educate and encourage others to vaccinate especially the youth who must lead by example,”

says Nomandla Sizani, a SACTWU organizer, who got her jab at the Salt River health care centre in Cape Town.

Andre Kriel, SACTWU general secretary welcomes the report:

“We are pleased with this progress, which brings us within reach of the 80 per cent vaccination rate which the framework agreement sets as a target for our industry. We will continue to encourage all our members, in the sectors that we are organised, to get vaccinated.”

Atle Høie, IndustriALL general secretary says:

“We commend the union for the ongoing vaccination campaigns. All efforts to make our members take the vaccine save lives. IndustriALL and other global unions are calling on the global community to remove obstacles to universal access to Covid-19 vaccines, including a TRIPs waiver on intellectual property rights to allow for the local production of vaccines in South Africa and other developing countries. This will improve vaccine equity and access in countries of the Global South.”

IndustriALL and other global unions recently called for universal access to Covid-19 vaccines, health products and technologies | IndustriALL
The South African government’s national vaccination programme which aims to vaccinate 40 million people or 67 per cent to reach population immunity, is facing vaccine hesitancy. Although the country has secured enough vaccines, fewer people are turning up for inoculation. According to the department of health by 7 December, 26, 6 million vaccines had been administered. However, four million people over the age of 50 and 13 million aged 18-34 are unvaccinated.

The vaccine hesitancy, mainly caused by anti-vaccination sentiments on social media platforms, has prompted the government to consider mandatory vaccination at workplaces and as a requirement to access public services. With the detection of the highly transmissible Omicron variant by South African scientists, it has been observed at one of the country’s largest hospitals, Baragwanath in Johannesburg, that most of the recent severe Covid-19 cases that require hospitalisation are among the unvaccinated aged below 35. For the vaccinated, the symptoms are said to be mild. According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, over 90 000 people have died from Covid-19 complications since the outbreak of the pandemic.

To increase the vaccination uptake, the minister of employment and labour Thulas Nxesi said at a meeting of the country’s social dialogue council, the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC), that a committee has been set up to explore how mandatory vaccination can be conducted. But mandatory vaccination appears not to be the only strategy being used by the government, there are also cash prizes for getting vaccinated.