Unite and other trade unions have urged the government to rule out ‘no jab, no job’ contracts, where employers aim to force their workers to have Covid-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment.
Unite has highlighted that beyond the fact that such contracts are legally questionable, they also further stoke a divisive, worker-blaming culture that glosses over the health and safety failings of bad employers and allows them to abdicate their responsibility in making workplaces Covid-secure.
Several employers have been vocal about intentions to make Covid vaccinations mandatory for new hires, including Pimlico Plumbers, whose controversial multi-millionaire CEO Charlie Mullins said his firm is drawing up contracts for new hires that would require a Covid jab.
Mullins was harshly criticised earlier on in the pandemic for accusing workers in various interviews of abusing furlough, suggesting they were lazy and simply wanted to sit on the beach and drink beer. In one TV interview with This Morning, he gave an anti-worker rant from his home in Marbella.
Commenting on his planned ‘no jab, no job’ contracts, Mullins told Radio 4 this week, “We’ll be using the new contacts two to three months from now. When people come along for a job with us if they’re not happy to sign that then that’s their choice but they certainly won’t be given a job with Pimlico Plumbers.”
It is understood that some employers are even seeking to force their existing workforce to be vaccinated. Neither approach – whether with existing workers or new hires – has been legally tested. Any ‘no jab, no job’ contracts may leave employers open to discrimination lawsuits, or employees who cannot or choose not to be vaccinated could also have a case for constructive dismissal.
Lawyer Philip Landau of Landau Law said that as the law stands now, employers have no right to force workers to get the jab.
“Generally speaking, employers are under the duty to keep their employees and customers safe,” Laundau told ITV News. “Moving on from that, there’s nothing stopping employers from encouraging workers from being vaccinated, but they don’t have statutory right to force their workers to get the jab.”
While the government has confirmed that it does not intend to introduce vaccine passports ‘for the domestic economy’, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi sent mixed messages after he told BBC News earlier this week, “It’s up to businesses what they do, but we don’t yet have the evidence of the effect of vaccines on transmission.”
Business groups themselves have said employers should not be coercing workers into taking the vaccine.
Peter Cheese, head of the CIPD, a group of HR professionals, told the Financial Times, “The UK government hasn’t made the vaccine compulsory, so neither can employers. Nor should they be restricting people coming into work based on whether they have had the vaccine.”
Unions have called on the government to make it clear that employers should encourage but not coerce workers into taking Covid-19 vaccinations.
“The government should make clear that making vaccination a condition of employment is the wrong approach,” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady. “It may be discriminatory and open up employers to legal challenge. Ministers must remind employers to make sure their workplaces meet Covid-secure guidelines.”
Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett agreed.
“The No Jab, No Job narrative is a disgraceful attempt to create a divisive narrative around workers and the vaccine,” he said. “It ignores the reality that it is workers who have been demanding safe working conditions, engagement with our safety reps, an effective work place testing regime, proper pay for those who have to self-isolate and now the vaccine.
“It is not workers who have risked lives through this crisis,” Beckett added. “Workers have kept the nations going through this crisis, putting their lives at risk and sadly on many occasions losing their lives. It is the decisions of Government that have cost lives through this crisis, not the actions of workers.”
By Hajera Blagg