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The basic education department has hit back at media reports that it had compelled staff to get vaccinated against Covid-19 or be fired.
According to the story, “Teachers refusing Covid-19 jab must produce medical report”, published on July 25, the department was forcing teachers who refused to be vaccinated on medical grounds to produce medical reports proving that the vaccine would “pose a health hazard” to them.
This was despite the department saying earlier it was not mandatory for educators to be vaccinated.
The ‘no jab, no job’ narrative emanating from an article carried in a Johannesburg-based newspaper this week has seemingly created confusion and fear among educators,” said department communications head Elijah Mhlanga.
Teachers who refused to report for duty when schools reopened — regardless of whether they were vaccinated or not or were incapacitated due to a comorbidity — “shall be subjected to the processes provided for in schedule 1 of the Employment of Educators Act”, the story said.This meant teachers could also face possible charges of misconduct.
The measures were outlined in a July 23 circular signed by basic education director-general Mathanzima Mweli. Mhlanga also noted that the extract from a seven-page circular, which had been posted on social media platforms, had caused “unnecessary anxiety and panic” among teachers who had chosen not to get the jab.
Some 517,000 education personnel out of 582,000 had been vaccinated by the time the programme closed on July 14, Mhlanga said.
“Others could not get vaccinated because of various reasons including illness, Covid-19 positive cases, flu vaccines and hesitancy,” he said.
The purpose of the circular “was to provide guidance regarding the operational requirements for educators employed in terms of the Employment of Educators Act of 1998,” Mhlanga said.
While the department had recommended vaccinations for all employees, it had not compelled people to be vaccinated, he said, adding that it respected the rights of people to choose not to be vaccinated on constitutional, religious, cultural, comorbidity or medical grounds.
Teachers who were concerned about comorbidities, medical conditions or illness needed to apply for leave from provincial education departments and if they were unable to perform their duties, the matter would be handled in terms of the Labour Relations Act along with the Employment of Educators Act.
“Where an educator simply refuses to report for duty without a valid reason and based on a reasonable instruction by the employer, such matters will be handled in terms of the disciplinary procedures of the Employment of Educators Act,” Mhlanga said.