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Standard Bank repeals controversial Covid-19 vaccination policy

Standard Bank, South Africa’s biggest by capital, has done away with its mandatory Covid-19 vaccination policy.

“Standard Bank South Africa has withdrawn its Covid-19 vaccination policy with immediate effect,” it announced on Monday night. 

This comes after finance union South African Society of Bank Officials (Sasbo) said it would challenge the bank’s dismissal of 40 of its members for not having been vaccinated before the cut-off date. Standard Bank required all staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by 4 April or be fired.

“Based on the current context of the pandemic, we believe that our vaccination policy is no longer required. Consequently, it is no longer compulsory for employees to be vaccinated, or to produce a negative PCR or Rapid Antigen test if they are unvaccinated, in order to enter our premises,” Standard Bank South Africa chief executive Lungisa Fuzile said. 

Fuzile added that while the bank had withdrawn the policy, it continued to support

and encourage vaccination.

In reviewing its mandatory vaccination policy, the bank said it had taken a range of factors into account, including recent regulatory developments, the current state of the pandemic in South Africa, and the high vaccination rate among its employees — 95%. 

Last month, health minister Joe Phaahla repealed Covid-19 regulations on the wearing of masks, gatherings and Covid-19 tests for incoming overseas travellers.

Phaahla said South Africa had exited its fifth wave and the regulations “no longer need to be in place at the present moment”. 

Standard Bank said should circumstances with respect to the pandemic change, it would review its policies in order to maintain a safe working environment.

The bank declined to answer the Mail & Guardian’s questions about how many people had been dismissed, whether they would be reinstated, whether the bank was open to hearing the reasons why people were unwilling to vaccinate and whether its decision to suspend its vaccination mandate was a result of the backlash it got over the policy. 

Sasbo told the M&G it accepted Standard Bank’s decision to suspend the mandatory vaccination policy but “this is not as far as this goes”. 

“We have given Standard Bank until Friday to bring back the 40 employees it dismissed as a result of the mandate that they have now repealed,” general secretary Modime Joe Kokela said. “Some Standard Bank employees are facing disciplinary action, outside of those dismissed. We want those processes to be done away with.” 

Sasbo, which has about 70 000 members in the financial sector, said there had not been much engagement in the past between the union and Standard Bank, regarding vaccine mandates. 

“Even when they implemented the mandatory vaccine policy, the union was not brought into those conversations,” Kokela said. 

Vaccine mandates were implemented by corporations as a way to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus and to provide a measure of immunity. 

Kokela said Sasbo had met with labour federation Cosatu to discuss the re-employment of those who had been dismissed in other companies.

“We are now embarking on a campaign where we’ll be demanding that all employers that have displaced people based on the issue of mandatory vaccination, reinstate those employees as soon as possible with no conditions attached.”

Anathi Madubela is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the M&G.

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