Why mandatory vaccinations for workers erode our human rightsby
The government appears to be championing mandatory Covid-19 jabs for all health and social care workers, but this is a terrible precedent to set and the HR community should rally against it, argues Helen Jamieson.
Recently, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was a "sensible and reasonable step" to make Covid vaccinations compulsory for care home staff in England and that a consultation would also look at extending this measure to NHS workers.
Good employers know that successful and sustainable change comes from adult communication and relationships, not from a stance of controlling parent.
For a sector struggling with recruitment and retention, where low pay and zero hours contracts are the norm, (in return for high levels of personal responsibility and high stress), adding another barrier to entry seems like a clear shot to our proverbial foot. As The Health Foundation reports, “there weren’t enough people working in social care before the pandemic hit - Covid-19 has put further strain on staffing”.
A reckless policy
Ever since the idea of mandatory vaccination has been raised, I have argued that it would be a brave, even reckless business that employs a ‘no jab, ‘no job’ policy. My argument then, as now revolves around our individual rights - which we must not forget are legal rights. Not to mention the raft of health and safety regulation that already (rightly) governs our workplaces, our government is now legislating against individual freedom.
For a sector that is already struggling to convince people that it offers attractive career prospects, this smacks of a lack of respect and a worrying dissolution of individual freedoms.
As Dr Dorothea Morfey, consultant anaesthetist and former adult care home nursing support worker wrote in the Guardian this month, “as a doctor, I abide by GMC guidance that I should be immunised against common, serious communicable diseases. Healthcare support workers in residential adult care homes have no statutory regulation, are not well paid, and do essential work that can be physically and emotionally demanding. Workers in this sector should be treated with more respect”.
Dodging difficult questions?
With the ‘worst’ of the pandemic over, critical eyes are now looking back on how the government responded to the pandemic. It feels like a cynical move to focus the spotlight on care home workers and their perceived ‘failings’. Turning on unvaccinated workers feels like an attempt to dodge difficult questions about how the government has lacked in its strategy and support of the care sector throughout the pandemic.
Alongside this blame-game, the government appears caught in the throes of paternalistic groupthink and has lost sight of what Britain and British freedom is about.
Whether for religious or spiritual reasons, health concerns, fear of needles and mistrust of vaccinations, there are many reasons why an employee might decline a vaccination. For employees whose hesitancy of vaccination is borne of fear, mistrust or misinformation, as an employer the best place to start is with a mission to inform and encourage. This means taking a proactive approach to communicating the benefits of vaccination to staff – carrot rather than stick.
Are we really children in need of parents?
The government would do well to take note of this. Good employers know that successful and sustainable change comes from adult communication and relationships, not from a stance of controlling parent. Getting employees to step forward for vaccination is about education, role modelling, empathy for those who are uncomfortable, giving people time to adjust, encouragement and support. Importantly, it’s about respect – that's what needs to run through the centre of all of this.
At its heart, this whole debate comes back to how we manage our staff – is it as adults or as children? Do we point the finger and blame, set rigid rules, revert to punishment and public humiliation or do we treat everyone with respect, allowing them to be their own person with their own views and their own approaches to life? Personally, I am far more likely to follow the speed limit if I am not being heckled by a backseat driver quoting the law at me. If, however, you educate me about the dangers of speeding and appeal to my emotions when it comes to lives damaged by speeding, then I will be open to being nudged to comply.
It seems the government has increasingly lost sight of some of the fundamental rights of British people. We lost the right to demonstrate, to travel, to get vital operations and non-Covid health care, to make our own decisions about how we protect our families, and now we have lost the right to choose what we put into our bodies.
Once eroded, rights seldom return. Treat us like children today and we will soon have a workforce that has lost all sense of what we can do and achieve if we live and behave as adults. Is this really the society and workplace we want?
Interested in this topic? Read Five ways to manage Covid-19 vaccination conflict.
An award-winning consultant in HR, employment and workplace training and a passionate advocate for fair, diverse and supportive employment practices, I have run a national HR and Training business for 20 years serving clients large and small. Known for my no-nonsense approach, I advise on vital issues such as culture change and diversity. An...