Coronavirus Covid 19: Fijian government directive on mandatory vaccines for worker shocks raises constitutional questions
Fijian officials have been told they will be sacked if they are not fully vaccinated by November 1, 2021. Photo / Supplied
By Poux Movono, RNZ
New regulations requiring all workers in Fiji to be vaccinated against Covid-19 have shocked many in the country – less than a week after the government announced otherwise.
Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama on Thursday revealed tough new rules to encourage people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Fijian officials have been told they will be sacked if they are not fully vaccinated by November 1 of this year.
Ana, a senior official, said the new directive looked like rape – given that she, like other officials – was informed by a media statement made by Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum last week that “c it is always everyone’s constitutional right to choose whether or not to be vaccinated.
“I feel like it’s rape in a way because I was given a choice. As far as my body is concerned, I have been informed that this is what the vaccine does. to get that choice removed, and you know, by someone who says you’re a fool to know the signs and yet you’re still not vaccinated, “she said.
“I am not an anti-vaccine. I am not against vaccination and I have had all of my vaccines for all other diseases.
“But when I heard about the vaccine, when it was first introduced as a Covid-19 protocol to get vaccinated, at first I was just worried because there wasn’t a lot of data. on this subject.”
Ana said she used her teaching skills, learned in Australia and New Zealand, to assess the risks of taking the vaccine and decided she wanted more time to decide if she was ready to take them.
While she has no doubts about the methodology used to bring the AstraZeneca vaccine to distribution, Ana said she wants due process to inform her choice.
But with three dependent children, Ana doesn’t think she has a choice and says her job was her life.
“At this point, I know that with this type of vaccine, over the years and as the statistics improve or more and more people are vaccinated, our data will really improve.
“Maybe they will improve the vaccine itself and get a better vaccine which will be more effective and may mean that it is more effective, but with less risk.
“So although I know there is a very small, very small chance of getting it (blood clot), it just wasn’t reassuring to me.
“They took the choice away from me at all, I just don’t have a choice. Now I have to get the shot.
“Even with that doubt in my head, I know I’ve read all the statistics on this, is that there’s a very, very rare risk that could happen. But it’s still a risk. “
Frustrated and sad, Ana called on human rights activists to act, asking them where they are when “this is a direct violation of my human rights”.
Constitution violated: unions
Workers’ rights activist Felix Anthony said the Prime Minister’s announcement was surprising given the government failed to consult with the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC), the country’s largest federation of unions in Fiji, which represents 70 percent of the workforce.
Anthony is general secretary of the National Workers’ Union and secretary of the FTUC and said efforts to secure a hearing with the country’s permanent secretary of labor fell on deaf ears today.
“We do not think this directive is appropriate, it violates the laws; the labor relations law, the Constitution of this country. And in particular, Article 11: 3 of the Constitution.
“It sets a very dangerous precedent as the government basically makes it a condition of employment for workers,” Anthony said.
“This is something that is imposed on workers in this country, and we don’t think the government should have a role to play in imposing such conditions on employment. Workers have a collective agreement, they have contracts. , and if there is going to be a change in the terms of employment, then appropriate negotiations and collective bargaining should take place. This is not the case. “
While the FTUC itself has advised all of its members to get vaccinated, the union believes that the choice is a workers’ right to take or not.
He said changes to national occupational health and safety legislation, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (HASAWA) of 1996, could have included a dialogue to help employers plan action plans. mitigation that also benefit employee rights.
“There was absolutely no consultation and we were not informed that it was the government’s intention. Obviously the government has been working on this for over a week or so and it has had all opportunities to consult, he did not, “says Antoine.
“In fact, I have made contact with the Permanent Secretary of Labor to convene a meeting between the FTUC and the Fiji Federation of Commerce and Employers to try to understand how we are handling this Covid problem that we are currently facing.
“Unfortunately, the government did not respond to our requests. There was absolutely no discussion about it.”
Anthony called the government’s response to Covid-19 as “more of a firefighter approach” and responsive to developments, adding that it was evident the government was not in control.
He said it was time for the government to call for better engagement with its social partners, “including civil society organizations, and work together to try to deal with the situation. Unfortunately, they don’t see it. in this way”.
He reminded workers that the new directives “are just regulations” that do not take precedence over the constitution and have not been tabled in parliament for promulgation.
“Pandora’s box of rights issues”
Suva lawyer Filimoni Vosarogo echoed Anthony’s remarks by saying that despite the new regulations that have been published, there are still provisions in the Constitution making it unconstitutional that vaccination is a condition of employment.
Calling the new measure an opening of the “Pandora’s box” on rights issues, Vosarogo said he was 100% convinced workers would seek to challenge the vaccine directive.
“Now, legally, the starting point for any discussion on the subject is to understand that vaccination is a medical treatment or procedure. And the Constitution says that free, prior and informed consent is required to validate this process, not any other consideration.
“The new laws will make people want to get vaccinated not because they want to, but because they don’t want to lose their jobs, or fear loss of security, or really just general happiness in their lives.” , Vosarogo said.
“So these new laws are at the greatest risk of being struck down in my opinion for their discriminatory approach against people who wish to exercise a choice based on their convictions and beliefs.”
Vosarogo said the regulations introduced were unconstitutional and arbitrary.
They were put in place without consultation and they lack the fairness expected in a free and practicing democratic country, he said.
“The new regulations have effectively eroded the right not to receive medical treatment without prior and free informed consent.
“I am absolutely sure, 100% sure, that someone who, by choice, belief or conscience, would choose not to vaccinate under these new regulations, he or she would certainly bring an action in the High Court of seek redress for these reported violations of these constitutional rights.
“If you asked me, what are the chances of this happening? 100%? Absolutely, it will happen.”
Bainimarama said the lockdown of the country would not work, but added that people were not doing enough to help fight the virus, especially making sure they get vaccinated.
To date, 335,000 Fijians have received at least one dose of AstraZeneca vaccine. The Prime Minister wants the country to reach the target of 586,000.
Fiji now has more than 7,000 isolated Covid-19 positive cases and more than 45 deaths have been reported since the last outbreak began in April.