Vaccinate or lose jobs, CEO Ralph Mupita tells MTN staff

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Pan-African mobile operator MTN Group has implemented a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for staff from next month, and those who refuse without “agreed exclusions” will lose their jobs.

Group president and CEO Ralph Mupita announced the policy shift today, saying MTN “will not be obliged to continue the employment contract” of those who refuse vaccinations without exemption either through risk assessment or agreed exclusions”.

This, Mupita says, is part MTN’s commitment “to protect the health and safety of its people and workplaces”.

There is a raging debate across the country on the issue of mandatory COVID-19 vaccines. The matter has polarised the country, with two strong divergent views dominating the discourse: those in favour of a mandatory vaccination policy for the country, and those opposed to it.

Government is yet to pronounce its position on the matter, and president Cyril Ramaphosa yesterday said he is awaiting a report on SA’s possible introduction of vaccine mandates.

"I would like a discussion to ensue in the country. We live in a country where a number of people have strong views for and against mandatory vaccination. My task as a leader is to nudge everyone in the same direction and through the dialogue that we should have, hopefully we will get everyone to move in the direction where we will all be aware as South Africans about the danger of being unvaccinated.”

To vax or not to vax?

MTN has become the first telco to implement a mandatory vaccine policy, joining other blue chip South African companies like Discovery Health, Standard Bank and Old Mutual, which have all announced a mandatory vaccine policy for their staff.

In a statement today, MTN says it will enforce its mandatory vaccine policy from January 2022 because the global rollout of vaccinations since 2020 has contributed to the containment and management of the virus in many countries.

“The science is clear. Vaccination against COVID-19 reduces rates of serious infections, hospitalisation and death. As an employer, we have a responsibility to ensure our workplaces are guided by the highest standards of health and safety, and that has informed our decision to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for our staff,” says Mupita.

“Our new COVID-19 policy recognises that some of our markets don’t have adequate access to vaccines. It also recognises some low-risk roles that will be accommodated with full-time work-from-home or alternate arrangements, but this will be a small population within our workforce.”

While MTN is readying to implement the new policy next month, its peers are still assessing the situation.

“Regarding vaccination of staff, the current Vodacom policy is that while we strongly encourage employees to get vaccinated, this is not mandatory. Nonetheless, we continue to assess the rapidly-evolving situation and will amend our policy should the situation require us to do so,” says Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy.

“Vodacom Group remains highly supportive of programmes that promote vaccination against COVID-19, evidenced through our donation with the Vodafone Foundation of R74 million to help fund the vaccine rollout to vulnerable and hard to reach communities across our Africa markets earlier this year.

“Vodacom also partnered with the African Union Development Agency to offer the mVacciNation digital toolbox − a mobile technology platform that manages vaccination appointments and stock availability − in African Union member states to accelerate COVID-19 vaccinations.”

Cell C says it is yet to decide on enforcing a mandatory vaccine policy: “Cell C is committed to a safe working environment for all employees, contractors and suppliers, and is currently going through an internal review process to consider whether or not to introduce mandatory vaccination in the future.”

Telkom had not responded to ITWeb’s questions on its vaccination policy at the time of publication.

MTN Group president and CEO Ralph Mupita.
MTN Group president and CEO Ralph Mupita.

Skewed distribution

Mupita notes that vaccine equity continues to be a major issue for African countries.

“As MTN, we add our voice to the calls for more vaccines to be made available to African countries, as herd immunity will only happen when the whole globe has reached a sufficient level of COVID-19 vaccination.

“The latest travel bans on African countries by developed nations are not based on science, are unjust and add to the lack of support for Africa that is much-needed for an effective global response to the pandemic. African countries are being punished for the very transparency that’s actually needed to successfully combat the impact on lives and livelihoods of the COVID-19 virus.”

Mupita points out that the latest data shows that across the continent, only 7% of Africans have been fully vaccinated. This compares with a global population vaccination rate of 55%.

“The fight against COVID-19 needs a global, comprehensive and equitable allocation of vaccines.”

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