‘No Jab, No Job’ - Mandatory Vaccinations in Fiji’s Workforce Announced
By Tomasi Tuitoga and Pita Suguturaga Overview As Fiji continues to battle the second wave of COVID-19, the Fijian Government passed a number of regulations in respect of workplace health and safety. Notably this includes the requirement for employees and employers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to enter the workplace and work. On 8 July 2021, the Fijian Government passed the Public Health (Infectious Diseases) (Infringement Notices) Regulations 2021 and the Health and Safety at Work (General Workplace Conditions) (Amendment) Regulations 2021, making amongst other things, vaccinations compulsory for the Fijian workforce in both the private and public sector.
‘No Jab, No Job’ Under the Health and Safety and Work (General Workplace Conditions) (Amendment) Regulations 2021, employers and employees are now required to get their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine before 1 August 2021 and their second dose before 1 November 2021. There are a limited number of exceptions to this requirement including where a person is under 18, a person has a history of severe allergic reactions to a component of the COVID-19 vaccine, or a person has other legitimate grounds for an exemption from this requirement. What happens if employees do not vaccinate? Under the amendments, failing to be vaccinated will be grounds for dismissal of an employee, meaning employees will need to get fully vaccinated if they wish to keep their jobs. Employees will also not be allowed to enter their workplace if they are not fully vaccinated by 1 November 2021. Where an employee enters a workplace while being unvaccinated, the maximum penalty is a fine of up to $500 applies. What happens if employers do not vaccinate and what are the obligations of employers? The regulations on the one hand impose obligations on employers to vaccinate, but while doing so, appear to make provision for employers to “enforce” COVID-19 measures within the workplace more stringently. Notably:
employers can require their employees and clients to keep their Care Fiji App switched on at all times at the workplace or write down their personal details in a provided logbook for contact tracing;
employers can require their employees and clients to a wear face covering at the workplace;
employers have the right to refuse any unvaccinated worker from entering the workplace; and
employers can dismiss any employee that refuses to get fully vaccinated by 1 November 2021.
If an employer fails to enforce and comply with the regulations, the employer’s business may be closed down.
The maximum fine for an employer not themselves being vaccinated is $1,500. However, employers that allow an unvaccinated worker to enter the workplace, face a harsher penalty of a fine of up to $10,000. Mask up or face the consequences In addition, to the compulsory vaccination requirements, employers and employees are required to mask up at all times in the workplace, provide details for contact tracing whether it be via Care Fiji App or put down details in a log book, practice physical distancing in the work place and limit customer/client occupancy. A detailed breakdown of the offences and fixed penalties under the Public Health (Infectious Diseases) (Infringement Notices) Regulations 2021 are set out in the schedule. What should employers be doing? The regulations are aimed at curbing the rate of spread of COVID-19 in Fiji and also are intended to assist Fiji’s return to a ‘more normal’ position, through increased vaccination protection among the workforce. That being said, these regulations are ‘novel’ and raise a number of unique issues. In particular, the rights of employees and employers when it comes to deciding whether to be vaccinated versus the competing interest of the State to protect and preserve the lives/health of its citizens. In order to comply and minimise the risks to your business associated with these regulations, employers should:
get fully vaccinated before 1 November 2021;
ensure all employees are fully vaccinated before 1 November 2021;
seek further advice if they are uncertain about the changes in law and how it will impact on their business;
prepare COVID-19 safe plans and if your business already has one, revisit it to ensure it is current and reflects the new regulations;
develop protocols and record keeping procedures around confirming the vaccination status of your employees; and
avoid any risks around employee challenges and unfair dismissal claims, ensure that all communications with employees have been appropriately drafted.
For further advice or information please contact Tomasi Tuitoga at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note this alert is intended to be high-level information and is not intended as legal advice. Please seek legal advice relevant to your situation.