The Fiji government’s direction that all civil servants and private sector employees receive at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by August 1st has met with a mixed reaction.
Last week Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said: “It does not matter if you are the CEO of a company, a sole trader, or a salaried employee – you must be vaccinated to continue working or else that business will risk being shut down.”
“No jabs, no job – that is what the science tells us is safest and that is now the policy of government and enforced through law.”
Fiji currently has 8576 active COVID-19 cases; 485 were recorded in the 24 hours to 8am yesterday, July 11.
However the Fiji Law Society says it is concerned about the “approach and legal implications” of the measures.
In a statement, Society President William Wylie Clark says while it supports the “need to get to the point where enough people are vaccinated that Fiji can return to a more normal state of affairs,” it believes a different approach is needed.
The Law Society says “health is important, but so are people’s legal rights” and raises concerns over potential discrimination against workers on the basis of their personal circumstances or heath status.
It urges the government to work in a tripartite forum with employers and employee associations to “design and implement rules which are consistent with the law and are clear.”
The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) and Society of Fiji Travel Associates (SOFTA) support the measures. Tourism workers have been amongst the first to be vaccinated in Fiji, as the industry struggles for its survival.
FHTA Chief Executive Officer, Fantasha Lockington said “Fiji’s tourism industry has been at forefront of adapting to new COVID-safe protocols and the pro-vaccination efforts by encouraging staff to be vaccinated through providing clear communication and vaccine information support. We urge all eligible citizens regardless of employment status to get vaccinated in the national interest”.
SOFTA President, Beatrice Nast says they expect all international visitors over a certain age travelling to Fiji in the future will be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and that these visitors will expect those who they interact with whilst in Fiji to be vaccinated as well.
Civil servants who had not received their first dose of the vaccine were instructed to go on leave from today, and not return to their jobs until they had received their first dose. If they haven’t done so by August 15th, they will be dismissed from work.
The debate comes as Fiji’s rugby team declined to wear a jersey bearing the message “Vaccinate Fiji” during its thrilling match against the All Blacks on Saturday night.
While Fiji Rugby chief executive John O’Connor says the union will talk with players and sponsors about how to promote the vaccination message before the teams meet again next weekend, Fiji coach Vern Cotter said the plan was “sprung on the players quite late in the piece” without exchange or consultation.
“As you can imagine, it’s a delicate subject for some and so it was probably better to just have a clean jersey and then spend some time on how best we want to communicate on this matter and how comfortable the players and everybody are around that communication.”