COVID-risky simchas ‘like Russian Roulette’
As COVID-19 numbers remain low, many young Jewish couples are taking the opportunity to get married. But at every simcha, one can see social media and livestream images of maskless retinues and guests, hugging, kissing, dancing, group selfies, large family photos, and Horah dancing. Even some rabbis aren’t wearing masks or keeping a social distance.
Wedding musicians, speaking on condition of anonymity, say it has become too much, and feel that COVID-19-safe simcha protocols need to be widely distributed and closely enforced for the safety of the community, wider population, and vendors who put their lives on the line every time they work at a wedding.
They say they have seen reckless behaviour by adults at many simchas. They are speaking out after a respected videographer landed up in hospital in January on oxygen, and a well-known bass player died from COVID-19 last year. They fear they’ll be next.
The performers say that on previous occasions, they have been pressurised by families to forget about COVID-19 rules. Some have been told that “COVID-19 is over” and that guests flying in from overseas (some of whom have been vaccinated) don’t need to wear masks, or that guests don’t need to abide by the curfew.
But when performing at Barmitzvahs and Batmitzvahs, they say that children and teens are stringent about wearing masks and keeping a distance, which shows that it’s possible to have a COVID-19-safe simcha.
“They all dance and eat apart. They really are leading the way. It’s like that campaign that told children to get their parents to ‘buckle up’. They choose to take it seriously. They don’t want to remember it as ‘when granny died because she caught COVID-19 at my Batmitzvah’,” says a performer.
They have witnessed some families thinking carefully about how to make a wedding joyful and safe. “For example, one mother of the bride got a guarantee from the retinue that they would quarantine for 10 days before the wedding and have COVID-19 tests two days before, and only they would dance at the wedding,” says another vendor.
A member of the community who attended a recent Jewish wedding in Cape Town, speaking on condition of anonymity, says, “When we walked in, everyone was sanitised and temperatures were taken. There were also masks at the door and kippot. People were mostly wearing masks, but as expected, they came off later in the night when people ate and drank and for photos. People were generally quite dispersed as there was an outside section, but I suppose I’d be lying if I said it was proper social distancing – a bit hard at a wedding.”
That may be the crux of the matter – having a COVID-19-safe wedding isn’t easy. And yet our community has been advised by top experts in the field to make it possible. Professor Efraim Kramer, who actually chose to cease advising the community because of its flouting of COVID-19 protocols, says the recommendations he wrote “are the standard wedding protocols that have always been in use [during the pandemic], irrespective of the COVID-19 level. The protocols were given to the Beth Din and any rabbi doing a wedding who wanted them. They are a public resource. All rabbonim are aware of the protocols, legislated precautions, and expert medical advice. They have the power and authority to ensure everybody is COVID-19 compliant for the chuppah ceremony, which they control. Whether they choose to exercise their power to ensure safety is the million-dollar question.”
In the document, Kramer sets out COVID-19-safe guidelines for all Jewish weddings during the pandemic. He recommends that each family should appoint a COVID-19 safety supervisor for the event. At the wedding, each person must go directly to a labelled chair with his/her name on it. They must remain in their seat for the entire ceremony, and wear an appropriate face mask at all times.
The protocols show that during a pandemic, a wedding must just be a chuppah – no dancing, eating, drinking, or socialising. But it’s clear that most weddings under COVID-19 don’t abide by these recommendations.
“Don’t socialise away from ones designated chair,” the protocols state. “Don’t bring food, drink, or alcohol into the premises except wine/grape juice for the chuppah. No dancing should be done at any time. No communal singing should be done at any time except the designated performer. Remain in your seat after the traditional glass has been smashed until the bride and bridegroom have left the chuppah area. You may clap at the appropriate time as often and as loud as you wish. Please leave the premises immediately after the wedding ceremony without any socialising.”
Kramer has also laid out protocols for every aspect of the wedding, from the pre-wedding reception to the bride and groom’s table, to the bedeken, chuppah, and civil-marriage registration. He also provides a “wedding kit” list – everything needed for a Jewish wedding in the COVID-19 era, including a medical screening register document.
Says Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, “As a chuppah is a religious event, there are Beth Din-mandated health and safety protocols endorsed by our medical panel which have been communicated to the rabbonim and shul committees. Regarding private events, including wedding receptions and other simchas, we have strongly recommended and requested that people follow the Hatzolah health and safety guidelines for private gatherings. I joined in the Hatzolah video plea to our community to maintain caution and all protocols to prevent a third wave.”
If these protocols aren’t followed, the ramifications could be serious. Jeffrey Dorfman, associate professor in medical virology at Stellenbosch University, says, “The rate at which people are being diagnosed in South Africa with COVID-19 is low for the moment. However, that will surely change, although no one really knows when. When it does, we will only know after a delay, and the rise will be helped by super-spreader events – particularly in the early part of the rise. I appeal to people not to provide those super-spreader events.
“My colleagues in India are having an incredibly rough time, and when that variant makes it here, again our knowledge about it will be delayed,” he says. “Even for people who feel comfortable about relaxing their guard, that shouldn’t extend to large in-person events. Please, don’t contribute to a new wave, and don’t allow you and your loved ones to be hurt by it. Stay away from large in-person events.”
Professor Barry Schoub, emeritus professor in virology at the University of the Witwatersrand and the former director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, agrees that lower COVID-19 numbers aren’t a signal to relax vigilance.
“Being a respiratory spread infection, the coming cold winter weather may well herald the anticipated third wave. These precautions still apply equally to those who have been vaccinated. Particularly problematic are simchas, when many of us seem to lose our common sense and throw caution to the wind, risking tragic consequences.”
Kramer makes no bones about what these tragic consequences might be. “The COVID-19 pandemic is a classic case of Russian Roulette. Sometimes there are many bullets in the gun chamber, and sometimes there are few, but there are always bullets in the chamber. Remove COVID-19 precautions at mass gatherings, and you pull the trigger and wait to see if someone dies. To ignore standard precautions at these events is against the law, against expert medical advice, and against common sense. We cannot wish COVID-19 away, and sadly, because of our irresponsible behaviour, we will bring on the next COVID-19 tsunami. When it comes, we will only have ourselves to blame.
WEDDING PROTOCOL LIST
DIRECTIONS ISSUED IN TERMS OF REGULATION 37(1)(a) OF THE REGULATIONS ISSUED IN TERMS OF THE DISASTER MANAGEMENT ACT, 2002. (ACT NO. 57 OF 2002)
The Wedding will be undertaken according to the above Regulations and anybody allowed access to the Wedding should abide by these Regulations.
• If you are not feeling well now or in the last 7 days or been in contact with a Covid positive person within the last 7 days, please do not attend.
• Each person should report to the medical screening table, sanitize hands, have an infrared temperature recorded and complete the Wedding Attendance Register using a sanitized pen, as per the Regulations, which have not changed
• Each person shall proceed to a labelled chair with his/her name on it. Please remain in your seat and do not go where the Bride and Bridegroom are located, as to avoid social distancing problems.
• Always remain 2 metres social distancing from any person that you wish to engage socially or communicate with.
• Wear an appropriate face mask always, without exception.
• Do not move any chairs, that have been specifically located 2 metres from each other.
• Do not make any physical contact with anybody.
• Do not swap or exchange cell phones or other items, unless thoroughly sanitised.
• Do not bring food, drink, or alcohol into the premises except wine / grape juice for the Chuppah.
• No person to person contact dancing should be done at any time to avoid physical contact or decreasing social distancing.
• No communal singing, unless outside, should be done at any time except the designated performer to avoid spread of the Covid virus
• Remain in your seat after the traditional glass has been smashed until the Bride and Bridegroom have left the Chuppah area. You may clap at the appropriate time as often and as loud as you wish.
• Please leave the premises immediately after the wedding ceremony without any socialising.
The Kabbalat Panim – Pre-Wedding Reception / Bride Room, which is the traditional reception for the family and friends of the bride to gather in a location to wish the bride and each other a hearty mazeltov, should be avoided so as not to breach the Regulation requirements of 2 metre social distancing. If present, it should be done outside with strict 2 metre social distancing.
Bridegroom’s Room / Table, the traditional reception for the family and friends of the bridegroom to gather in a location to wish the bridegroom and each other a hearty mazeltov and sign the ketubah, should be avoided, so as not to breach the Regulation requirements of 2 metre social distancing. If present, it should be done outside with strict 2 metre social distancing. No alcohol is allowed.
Badeken – Veiling the Bride. Just before the Bridegroom approaches his Bride, all those present should move away from the Bride to allow 3 metre circumferential radius, to allow the Bridegroom to veil his Bride with adequate space and safety. Once this 3-metre social distance has been achieved, the Bridegroom may approach his Bride, the Brides face mask may be removed, and the Bridegroom may traditionally veil his Bride. From this point onwards, if a 3 metre radius of social distancing can be maintained until the Bride is positioned next to her Bridegroom under the Chuppah, including her
walk from the Bride’s Room to the Chuppah, with the exception of her accompanying parents, then she may remain with the veil in place without a face mask. However, if this 3 metre safety radius circumferentially cannot be maintained, for whatever reason (structural design, position of present attending persons, Bride not being accompanied by those with whom she resides etc), then she must wear her mask under her veil for safety.
Although it is medically advisable and government Regulations that everybody wear an appropriate face mask at all times at all mass gathering events, like a wedding, it is understandable and natural that the bride and bridegroom wish to have their faces uncovered, and of their respective parents as well, when each of them walk down the aisle to the Chuppah. If this is the chosen method, albeit it illegal and unhealthy, it is highly recommended that the following be considered in the interests of safety:
• The ceremony should only be undertaken outside to enhance ventilation
• Sanitise hands before beginning the respective walks down the aisle
• Ensure all guests are located at least 3 metres away from the sides of the aisle
• The bride and bridegroom should only be accompanied down the aisle by those who she/he has regular physical contact with, to avoid any potential viral spread
• Social distancing under the Chuppah has to be strictly adhered to by all parties if face masks are not worn
The maximum number of persons under and around the Chuppah must always maintain the safety regulations and considerations in place throughout the Wedding ceremony.
The following physical considerations should be maintained:
o The Bride and Bridegroom must sanitise their hands with 70% alcohol spray before the beginning of the Chuppah process.
o The Bride and Bridegroom may stand next to each other (without the need for any social distancing throughout).
o The officiating Rabbi, who will deliver the service verbally, read the Ketubah, announce the brachot, handle the becher (goblet) of wine and so forth, shall wear an appropriate face mask, throughout the Chuppah ceremony. He shall physically maintain a 2-metre circumferential distance from all other persons nearby except the Bride and Bridegroom where a 1 metre distance is maintained just during the ceremony.
o The accompanying witness to the ceremony shall wear an appropriate face mask throughout the Chuppah ceremony. They shall physically maintain a 2-metre circumferential distance from all other persons nearby, except the officiating Rabbi, where he can maintain a minimum distance of 1 metre circumferentially during the Chuppah ceremony only, for practical considerations that do not breach safety.
o The Bride and Bridegroom’s Fathers and Mothers shall stand to the side of the Bride, always at a 2-metre circumferential distance from all other persons nearby including the officiating Rabbi.
o Both sets of Mothers (or substitutes), who will assist the Bride in drinking from the cup of wine, shall sanitise their hands with 70% alcohol spray before doing so.
o There shall be no pole-holders as this is not a religious requirement and should therefore be discontinued during the Covid outbreak due to safety reasons. There is likewise no need for a best man.
o The relevant “ring” shall be sprayed with 70% alcohol sanitiser beforehand and sealed inside a clean Jiffy type plastic bag until it is required under the Chuppah. Besides tradition, it is recommended that the ring be kept by the Bridegroom’s father to decrease the number of persons under and near
o The wine for the Chuppah must be from an unopened bottle of wine. The Wine becher and the bottle of wine shall be sprayed with 70% alcohol sanitiser before the event and sealed inside a clean Jiffy type plastic bag until it is required under the Chuppah.
o The glass used for breaking should be treated in the same manner as the Becher.
o All activities from this point onwards require the need for social distancing of 2 metres, for safety reasons.
Civil Marriage Registration
It is recommended that the civil Marriage Certificate requirements be undertaken before the actual Chuppah ceremony at the office of the officiating Rabbi. Besides the relevant documentation necessary, two new ink pads should be purchased for fingerprint purposes for the Bride and Bridegroom.
A pack of 6 x new pens for medical screening table / Ketubah signing
Spray bottles of 70% alcohol x 10
Named labels for guest seating
Ketubah inside container
Wine glasses x 3
Grape juice / Wine bottle x 1
Glass for smashing under Chuppah
Large Jiffy type transparent plastic bags for sanitised wine glasses, bottle of grape juice/ wine and glass for smashing.
Spare regulation face masks x 3
New ink pad for civil marriage fingerprints
Wedding attendance register, pre-populated with the full names, contact cell number, current infrared temperature, and any history in last 7 days with a Covid positive person or been ill.
Be prepared to have limited access to the toilet. (If you absolutely need, you must disinfect the toilet after use. The toilet should be limited to only one person at a time).
Always hand sanitise hands on entering the toilet, before and after touching any doors, seats, handles etc.
Please sanitise or wash hands thoroughly on all hand, palm and between fingers and under nails with soap for 20 seconds minimum after toilet use.
The toilet seat should be closed before flushing to prevent potential spreading of the virus.
Paper towels / wall heater only will be used.
No personal items should be left in the toilet
People may not congregate and socialise in the toilet facility and area
All hand rinsing bowls should be removed for safety reasons.
Anglican ministers break ranks over church’s anti-Israel stance
“What do you do when the leadership of an organisation you’ve spent your whole working life serving adopts a policy or position that your conscience won’t tolerate?” asks Reverend John Atkinson. He is one of four local Anglican Church ordained ministers who recently spoke out against the Anglican Church of Southern Africa’s (ACSA’s) anti-Israel doctrine.
Atkinson, along with Reverends Dave Doveton, Dudley Greenshields, and Allan Smith also wrote a letter to the United Orthodox Synagogues’ Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, thanking him for taking a stand against ACSA’s approach to Israel, especially in the light of his recent open letter to Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Dr Thabo Makgoba. In that letter, the chief rabbi said the archbishop was “making a terrible mistake that endangers your own church”.
After receiving the letter from the four ministers, the chief rabbi invited them to meet him, which both parties said was very positive. “We wanted the chief rabbi and the Jewish community to know that there are many Anglicans who would find these policies offensive and a contradiction of our faith,” said Atkinson. “We may be sanctioned, but we aren’t afraid. Standing for the truth and against antisemitism is much more important.”
The group believes that ACSA’s anti-Israel resolution “expresses the ideological perspective of a small but influential elite, and by no means is representative of the average Anglican in Southern Africa. This is why we have made public our rejection of anti-Israel decisions and policies in our denomination”.
Between them, the four ministers have about 160 years of service looking after congregations within their denomination. Two of them were lecturers in theological institutions. All of them have a wealth of experience in their chosen professions.
They are close to retirement, so their careers are unlikely to be negatively impacted by speaking out. “It won’t make us popular, but that doesn’t worry us,” said Atkinson. “There are more people who would speak out if their careers wouldn’t be impacted.
“The average Anglican hasn’t thought about the Middle East at all,” he said, so the Jewish community needs to know that it’s not like three million people have turned against Israel. The ministers will therefore work to increase education and awareness.
He was moved by the meeting with the chief rabbi, and hopes that it “will open the way for greater dialogue between our communities and a greater appreciation of the values we share”.
Delving into why they have taken a stand, he said “this crisis of conscience was precipitated by a resolution that was passed at the highest decision-making body in the denomination in 2019 to support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions [movement] and call for a boycott of Israel. The resolution also called on local bodies within the church to adopt these measures.
“Since then, the chief rabbi has had discussions with the Anglican Archbishop, only to be rebuffed. This has been of particular concern because of rising incidents of antisemitism in South Africa,” said Atkinson.
In the letter to the chief rabbi, they wrote, “We want to convey our assurance to you that not all Anglicans support the aforementioned [anti-Israel] synod resolution. Indeed, we are appalled that people in our church would even think of proposing such an antisemitic stance and shocked beyond belief that the synod would uncritically and without any debate pass the resolution.”
A synod is a council of a church, usually convened to decide an issue of doctrine, administration, or application.
They said they weren’t against the criticism of any state and its policies, “but the one-sided diatribe against the government of Israel elected by the people of Israel and the total alignment with certain militaristic organisations bent on the destruction of the Jewish homeland is beyond belief”.
It had caused “much grief and disappointment, as it casts a slur on all of us. The simplistic analysis ignores the role of other countries and organisations who play a direct and indirect role in geopolitics and conflict in the region, and one suspects is meant to advance a propagandistic narrative and shut down other points of view. Certainly, no representative of the Israeli state was invited to give their perspective at the synod.”
The ministers said that “to lay all the blame on the Israelis amounts to scapegoating, which as you are all too painfully aware, is a classic hallmark of the scourge of antisemitism”. They were also deeply disturbed by the resolution calling on them to boycott Israeli companies. “What a terrifying reminder of the horrific genocidal acts against the Jewish community in Europe,” they wrote.
They disagree with the assertion that the present state of Israel isn’t tied to “the historic Jewish nation recorded in the sacred scripture that we as faith communities share. We believe that it’s a thinly veiled attempt to undermine Israel’s right to exist, and is against the historical record. This, too, is a mark of antisemitism.”
They questioned why a church which is based thousands of kilometres away from the conflict “should be so committed to the promotion of one narrative and the total exclusion of the other. If our church is so concerned about the lives of Palestinians, why was it silent about the deaths of 3 383 Palestinians in Syria? We believe the answer is obvious.
“We would like to assure you that we will remain faithful and vocal about Israel’s right to exist and defend itself against attack,” they said. “We will continue to engage with other Christians on these issues to ensure that the pro-Palestinian narrative isn’t the only voice that is heard.”
“The significance of their letter struck home to me powerfully,” Goldstein said. “It shows that there is another voice within the Anglican Church and the Christian community in South Africa, so many of whom love and support Israel and appreciate its role in the world.
“We can easily make the mistake of thinking that certain politicians or religious leaders speak for the country when they come out with such anti-Israel vitriol,” he said. “This letter is indication of a much broader movement of South Africans who have a completely different view. It’s important for us to know that we have many allies and friends across the length and breadth of this country. That’s why I wanted to meet with this group who wrote to me, to express to them on behalf of our community how much we appreciate their friendship and their partnership in getting this message out.
“I’m sure that their letter will encourage others to come forward. Often people feel intimidated and don’t want to speak out. We need to create an environment in South Africa where all citizens can come forward and show their support. There is an enormous groundswell of the silent majority of South Africans who support Israel. I met this group to encourage them to get the message out so that more people can come forward and express their true views.”
Going forward, the ministers will work to “encourage the support [of Israel] in the Anglican population and beyond”, according to Atkinson. “The Jewish community can assist us in this endeavour by communicating with Christians they know about Israel and the Jewish perspective of the Middle East.”
The miracle of the maroon handkerchief
Seventy-eight years ago, a Jewish man gave his 17-year-old daughter a maroon handkerchief as a way to remember him. She never saw him again – he died in the Holocaust. But she survived, went to America, and recorded her testimony in 1984.
Fast forward to 2020, and 14-year-old King David Linksfield pupil Noa Nerwich is asked to write a poem for a competition based on a Holocaust survivor’s testimony. She came across Ruth Halbreich’s recording, which includes mention of the handkerchief. Nerwich wrote a poem about the handkerchief and won the competition.
A year later, Halbreich passed away. Shortly thereafter, her grandson, Reg Tigerman, came across the poem in a newsletter he received, and realised it was about his grandmother. But that’s not all: soon after that, he also found the maroon handkerchief. He made contact with Nerwich [who is now 15], bringing a story that has spanned generations and continents full circle.
Speaking to the SA Jewish Report from Los Angeles, Tigerman says, “When I discovered the poem, I was shocked. Ruth, who we affectionately called Nanny, had just passed away a few months ago. The maroon handkerchief had been a topic of conversation within our family because my wife and I revisited her testimony right after she died and talked about trying to find it.
“My mom, who was going through Nanny’s things, did end up finding it. So, not only did Noa write a poem inspired by my grandmother’s testimony, which is an honour in and of itself, but she picked up on an item she mentioned at the very end of her testimony (proving that Noa was paying very close attention), and it was something that a lot of time and attention had been spent on recently. It was a series of dayenus [it would have been enough]. A true miracle. It felt like the world was telling us how important Ruth and her story is, and how important it is to continue to share her story.”
According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Halbreich was born in 1926 in Warsaw to a well-to-do family of three sisters and one brother. In 1939, their father fled with them to the Russian part of Poland, where he continued his work in the paper business. She, her father, and one sister crossed back into Warsaw, but her mother and two other siblings were sent to Siberia.
Halbreich and her family moved into the Warsaw ghetto in 1940. When the Germans started sending people from the ghetto to the camps, she and her sister were sent outside the ghetto to live in a convent. After the Warsaw ghetto uprising, Halbreich and her sister were sent to a slave labour camp in a small town in Germany. They were liberated in April 1945. She found out that her father had died in the ghetto in 1943, fighting in the underground. She met her husband, a fellow Holocaust survivor, at a displaced-persons camp. She also found out that her mother and two siblings had survived in Siberia.
In her testimony, Halbreich says, “The uprising was in April 1943. My father had left the ghetto in the trucks carrying merchandise. I met him in his office. He gave me a handkerchief of his to remember him by. My father’s biggest wish was to be able to save his children, and he was able to do this. He went back into the ghetto, and no one really knows what might have happened to him.”
A million miles away from that time and place, Nerwich entered the 21st Annual Holocaust Art & Writing Contest run annually by Chapman University and The 1939 Society (a community of Holocaust survivors, descendants, and friends). “The brief was for a piece of creative writing based on the testimony of a Holocaust survivor,” she told the SA Jewish Report.
The poem describes the handkerchief as the only thing Halbreich has left from her father as her world is destroyed, and how it symbolises the flames of destruction and her father’s deep love.
“Hearing her story and writing the piece itself was an enriching experience,” says Nerwich. “I was thrilled when I was awarded first place, a first for King David High School. I always smile just thinking about my poem. However, a small part of me always wished that Ruth would be able to read the poem and know that her story is being shared, that she is being heard.”
So, when she received the email from Tigerman on 15 July, “it changed my life. I read it and re-read it because I was sure my eyes were deceiving me,” says Nerwich.
She was shaking as she read the email. “I felt a deep sense of loss to learn that Ruth had passed away, but I was also deeply moved to learn that her family had the gift of this poem and that Ruth’s story continues to be told. Seeing the actual picture of the maroon hankie – the last memory that Ruth had of her father, the piece of fabric that guided her throughout the horrors she endured – is an image that will be permanently engraved in my mind.”
She says she chose to reflect on this story in her poem “because I could relate to Ruth. I’m a very sentimental person. Just like Ruth’s dad gave her a red handkerchief, my dad made me red roses out of Lego, which I keep in my room. So, the fact that she mentioned the maroon handkerchief that her dad gave her really resonated with me. It made it so much more real. It’s a symbol of her story, and what she and so many others went through.”
Her mother, Daniella Nerwich, says she felt breathless when she read Tigerman’s email. “All this really shows the value of Jewish education. We are so fortunate that King David creates opportunities like this [to enter the poetry contest]. This just shows how it can be so far-reaching. So huge credit must go to King David for creating this opportunity. It has been life changing.”
Because of the pandemic, Nerwich was unable to travel to the United States to collect her prize, but Tigerman’s message has made up for that disappointment. They hope to meet in person one day, and possibly even work together to share the story of the maroon handkerchief as a form of Holocaust education.
Says Tigerman, “While my grandmother didn’t often share her story (she would if you asked, but she wasn’t very proactive about it), my grandfather [Siegfried Halbreich] was a regular speaker. He was a survivor of multiple concentration camps over the course of five and a half years. He served as president of The 1939 Society, the organisation that published Noa’s poem, and was a founder of the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum. Everyone’s story is worth telling and remembering, which has made the oral histories and recorded testimonies so important.”
COVID-19 vaccination could be compulsory at workplace
As vaccination becomes more freely available in South Africa, questions arise such as can you make vaccination compulsory and can you dismiss someone if they refuse? Do you have to allow time off to get vaccinated, and what happens if an employee has an adverse reaction? These questions and many more are new to our labour law, and will be subject to litigation over the next many years.
In terms of the department of employment and labour’s latest regulations, the minister has recognised that employers may in terms of their own internal rules make COVID-19 vaccination compulsory.
Obviously, the compulsion must be subject to certain oversight, and must be reasonable in all circumstances. The employer would have to take into account their own operational requirements, and must be able to justify that in terms of these requirements, they would expect employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Over and above this, each case must be carefully explored, discussed, and subject to proper consultation, taking into account the employee’s circumstances. These circumstances can include medical, religious, bodily integrity, and any other factor reasonably raised by the employee or the employee’s representative.
Obviously, each particular employer would develop a set of guidelines and rules which would be read with the disciplinary code and would be properly implemented after consultation with the employees or their representatives.
These rules must be made subject to the above-mentioned criteria, and would probably be differently implemented in accordance with the operational requirements of the position of the actual employee.
For instance, if a buyer for a company has the duty to travel abroad and can do so only if vaccinated, then there would be a compulsion to be vaccinated. It would be incumbent upon the employer to explore whether there are other ways of doing the job or whether an employee is willing to accept another position which doesn’t require vaccination.
It’s absolutely vital for every employer to read the regulation, and to advise all the necessary parties within the next three weeks of their intention to make vaccination mandatory and which employees will be affected.
Obviously, even once vaccination has been made mandatory, it would be subject to the employees being able to obtain the vaccination, and might require the employer to help obtain them. The employer’s policy will take into account various factors such as consultation with all the representatives at the workplace, and will respect bargaining council agreements and any other collective agreements with trade unions.
If there is an informal committee representing the staff and/or a workers forum, these bodies must also be consulted.
The minister of health has published draft regulations for the establishment of a no-fault compensation fund for injuries caused by the COVID-19 vaccination. The Vaccine Injury Compensation Fund will be established in terms of the regulations as an amendment to the regulations of the Disaster Management Act of 2002.
Although this compensation fund for vaccine injury hasn’t been formed yet, the various ministers involved are taking into account commentary from the public, and will be getting legal advice from parliament’s legal advisors.
The injury must be related to vaccination. An injured person may not institute a claim through the court process against the national or provincial government until the claim has been adjudicated by the relevant panel through the compensation fund.
Only if the person is dissatisfied with the outcome of the adjudication or the amount awarded can that person lodge an appeal, and the appeal must be determined by the relevant decision maker. Only after pursuing a claim with the scheme can a person look to the courts if that person is still dissatisfied.
Businesses are urged once again to warn their staff that protocols are in place, and breach of COVID-19 rules and regulations will lead to spread of infection and almost inevitably disciplinary action.
I’m involved in no less than a dozen cases where employers have reported and taken action against recalcitrant employees. It’s time, once again, to reiterate the fundamental, basic rules such as social distancing, mask wearing, and sanitising. Over and above this, any staff member exhibiting symptoms must report these symptoms to their health officer or senior management, and should immediately take sick leave.
The consequences of a staff member remaining silent could be loss of their position and more seriously, the spread of infection.
Employers will have to educate staff about the value of vaccination along with normal social distancing, masks, and hand sanitising. Education in these circumstances, I believe, will be the strongest factor in convincing all staff to get vaccinated.
A consolidated direction on occupational health and safety measures in certain workplaces was gazette on 11 June 2021. This contains new requirements with regard to vaccination.
It’s clear from this that an employer must give employees time off to be vaccinated. The employee may be required to provide proof of an appointment to be vaccinated. Time off shouldn’t be regarded as sick leave, but should be given as a form of special leave.
If there are negative effects from vaccination, the employer will grant paid sick leave in terms of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. If the sick leave has been exhausted, there could be a claim in terms of the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act. Employees will produce the vaccination certificate thereafter, and a medical certificate if they’ve had complications.
- Michael Bagraim is an attorney specialising in labour law, and advises nationwide on the restructuring and management of labour forces. He is also a Democratic Alliance member of parliament.
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