BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
CIVIC society groups yesterday blasted threats by government to scrap insurance pay-outs for unvaccinated frontline workers saying these were tactics to enforce mandatory vaccination of civil servants without considering their constitutional rights on health matters.
This was after government on Tuesday said it will not provide compensation to 20% of the unvaccinated workers who tested positive to COVID-19 while on duty and set July 14, 2021 as the deadline for them to get jabs.
Frontline workers, who include health workers, were given the first priority to get inoculated at the onset of the vaccination programme in February this year, but apathy has marred the programme.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week implied that government will make vaccination compulsory, while addressing graduating prison officers in Ntabazinduna.
Zimbabwe Nurses Association president Enock Dongo said government would be violating human rights if it used threats to force health workers to get vaccinated when the vaccines were in short supply.
He said government was failing to pay workers who were due the compensation and accused it of playing tricks to avoid paying allowances.
“It is not proper for government to give a deadline considering that the vaccination process is voluntary,” Dongo said.
“Under circumstances that the vaccination programme has been declared voluntary, government should expect some individuals who would not be willing to be vaccinated.
“Since the beginning of the compensation scheme, at least 4 400 nurses contracted COVID-19 but only 400 were given the compensation fund. Government is yet to pay the rest. Government cannot make that demand at a time the vaccine is in short supply.”
Dongo also said the threats would demoralise health workers at a time the country was battling the third wave of the pandemic.
“As we speak, there are some health workers who want to be vaccinated, but they cannot access the vaccines,” he said.
“Denying the health workers the allowance after they have risked their lives by opting to be on the frontline is not only unfair but a violation of their right.
“Even if the health workers were to comply with the directive, the deadline does not provide ample time for them to be fully vaccinated.”
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum executive director Musa Kika said government should focus on positive messaging, dispelling myths and rolling out a well-designed communication strategy to win the minds of sceptics.
“Government should stop using illegal threats to armtwist people into getting vaccinated,” Kika said.
“We have even heard threats about unvaccinated people not being allowed in Zupco buses. Instead, it should educate its people and build trust, not destroy it, thus attracting them for vaccination.”
Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike said threats and ultimatums to the unvaccinated frontline health workers at a time the vaccine supplies were not matching up with the high demand of people willing to take up the jab, would not work to combat COVID-19.
“The government should seriously consider engaging and involving health workers in an honest dialogue as the current non-engagement has taken away any hope for better conditions of service. Health workers see no future and they are only left with one option; to leave the public health services,” he said.
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union secretary-general Japhet Moyo added: “Before making that decision, government should have engaged the representatives and discussed the issue.
“Authorities cannot just impose a policy without explaining its necessity to the concerned stakeholders. Government should always opt for dialogue and engagement.
“Otherwise, they will trigger discontent amongst workers as the private sector is likely to stop paying its unvaccinated workers like what the government has done.”
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