Union leaders have angrily reacted to the Zimbabwean government’s announcement Sunday that workers who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 will no longer be allowed at work and will not be paid. This is seen as part of efforts to deal with high vaccination hesitancy in the southern African nation.
Ndabaningi Nick Mangwana, Zimbabwe’s secretary for information, over the weekend told government-controlled media that all civil servants who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 will not be allowed to work come Monday.
“There is no extension to the deadline of 15 October, when civil servants are expected to all having been vaccinated, failure of which those who are not vaccinated would not be allowed to work. And further to that is the fact that those who are not vaccinated and those who are not working will not be paid because the thrust is that if you do not work, you don’t get paid,” he said.
Schoolteachers, who constitute the largest proportion of Zimbabwe’s civil servants, say the Friday deadline the government set was unilateral.
“Fundamentally, there was no agreement over the issue of vaccination," said Takavafira Zhou, president of Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe.
"Our position as workers has always remained that we encourage our members to be vaccinated. But by no means should our encouragement be misconstrued for mandatory vaccination. Our position is very clear: vaccination must be voluntary. Not mandatory. We must invest in the efficacy of vaccination — explaining to members how vaccination would assist them in terms of boosting their immunity but that has not been done.”
Zimbabwe’s government says it has fully vaccinated 2,472,859 people since the program started in February. Zhou said Zimbabweans were shunning vaccinations for several reasons that the government must first understand, from religious reasons to lack of knowledge about COVID-19 vaccines to lack of trust in the imported Chinese SINOVAC and SINOPHARM vaccines.
He said all civil servants must continue coming to work while unions were considering going to court over purported dismissals.
“The members will only stop going to work if there is a formal letter from the Public Service Commission dismissing them. But even with that formal letter, it will still be challenged because its legality must also be established. But as of now the teachers still remain at their stations, demotivated of course, shimmering in poverty and misery but they remain employees of the government,” he said.
Zimbabwe currently has 132,333 confirmed coronavirus infections and 4,657 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, which tracks the global outbreak.
Civil servants — especially teachers — have long complained about lack of adequate protective equipment in classrooms to curb the spread of COVID-19. Zimbabwe’s government, however, maintains it is providing enough resources in the fight against the pandemic.