We were concerned, in our previous article, with the obligation (or not) of employees to get vaccinated as well as withs the consequences of their (possible) refusal (or weakness) (: Deniers vs Business & Economy: 1-0). This article was followed by a piece of legislation (Law 4820/21-Government Gazette A 130/2021), which attempted to contribute to the management of the whole issue. Did it help businesses and the economy? Now that “the dust has settled down” from the various view on the matter, we can make a sober and brief assessment of it. In this context, the absolutely recent views expressed by the President of our Republic and the position of the scientific community will assist us.
The position of the President of the Republic (and of our Republic): The responsibility of all of us
One of the central slogans in the anti-vaccine demonstrations is “punks, traitors, politicians”. Words, if nothing else, full of hatred and discredit. Words that clearly go beyond freedom of speech but also the right to criticize.
Do all our politicians have these specific characterizations? During the 47th anniversary of the restoration of the Republic, we heard, among other things, the President of the Republic clarifying:
“Democracy does not only promote individual rights. The virtuous exercise of citizenship presupposes the distance from selfishness and the recognition of the good of the many. Our freedom is not unlimited and it does not involve the harm of others. Its power is within and not outside the law. In the health crisis, we realized how much our actions and decisions affect our fellow human beings. Our obligations to society as a whole are the other aspect of our rights. As the fourth wave becomes even more contagious, we realize the importance and urgency of mass vaccination. “There is no ambiguity and doubt: the end of the pandemic is no longer a matter of good fortune or metaphysics; it is our choice and responsibility.”
This is the essence of our democracy. This, and only this, is the position that may be appropriate for the issue of vaccinations in a benevolent and democratic country like ours.
This is the reason why we must, without exception, adopt this view for this issue and for each any relevant one.
The position of the scientific community: The way of transmission of the coronavirus
Researchers from the Universities of Oxford, Colorado, California, North Carolina, Toronto and San Diego published (most recently-15.4.21) their study in the prestigious Medical Review “The Lancet” entitled “Ten scientific reasons in support of airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2”.
This study concludes:
“There is steady, strong evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is being transmitted by airborne transmission. Although other routes may contribute, we believe that air transmission is likely to be dominant. The public health community must act accordingly and without further delay.”
Should we remain inactive and apathetic as a society in this finding? What do we have to do – other than keep the windows open?
Obligation to present a vaccination certificate or disease certificate
The (absolutely) recent law, which we mentioned in the introduction, is moving in the direction of the views expressed by the President of the Republic and the aforementioned scientific study. It aims to remind us (but also, necessarily, impose) our democratic duty to ensure the lives and health of our most vulnerable fellow human beings.
In this context, it provides (: article 205, par. a) that, until 31.12.21, “public and private sector employees who have completed the COVID-19 coronavirus vaccination or have become ill within the last six months, are obliged to demonstrate to the head of the organizational unit where they serve or to their employer, respectively” either a vaccination certificate or a disease certificate. In fact, the relevant certificates and attestations are checked “by the employer through the special electronic application” that has already been put into operation.
Obligation to get vaccinated
The specific piece of legislation imposes the obligation of vaccination “for imperative reasons of protection of public health”.
In fact, this obligation concerns “all staff of private, public and municipal care units for the elderly and people with disabilities (medical, paramedical, nursing, administrative and support staff)” (Article 206 §1a).
It also occupies “all staff (medical, paramedical, nursing, administrative and support) in private, public and municipal health structures (diagnostic centers, rehabilitation centers, clinics, hospitals, primary health care facilities, hospital units, National Organization of Public Health)” (§2).
Let us clarify, of course, that the above personnel includes anyone who provides services or works – permanently or temporarily, directly or through third parties. Even the volunteers (§3).
This obligation does not apply to those who have fallen ill (“for a period of six (6) months from the illness”) as well as to those who will be able to demonstrate specific health reasons (specifically identified by the National Vaccination Committee) that prevent them from getting the vaccine (§4).
The deadlines for compliance and the consequences of refusal
Those who are obliged to be vaccinated have a deadline to receive the first (or, as the case may be) single dose of the vaccine until 16.8.21 (or, in the case of healthcare facilities, until 1.9.21). They are also obliged, in cases where a second dose is provided, to proceed with the completion of the vaccination -as provided.
However, in the event of non-compliance of those required to be vaccinated, severe penalties are provided for both employees and employers (Article 206 §6).
For employees – “deniers”: Their contracts are suspended. Most importantly, however, they are not paid the required wages, whether they work in the public or private sector or are employed on employment, project, independent service, loan contracts or through a contractor.
As for the employers who employ, nevertheless, unvaccinated employees, the penalties provided are severe: a fine of 10,000 to 50,000 € is imposed for each violation and, in case of recurrence from 20,000 to 200,000€ for each violation.
The possibility of extending the measures to other categories of employees
Although logically expected, the provision that provides for the possibility of extending the specific measures, by Joint Ministerial Decision, to other categories of employees, as well as the possible specialization of the specific regulations, caused quite a stir (article 206 §7).
In particular, this provision provides: “the specification and extension of the categories of persons to be obligated to get vaccinated, the determining of the procedure and timing of vaccination, as well as any prioritization, monitoring and control of compliance with the obligation, the specific conditions of the protection of personal data and any other necessary details are provided… “.
Based on the statements of the government so far and the relevant news reports, it seems that other categories of employees, such as teachers, are not so far behind.
Replacement of the deniers – recruitments for a specific time
In order to fill the gaps created in the Public Sector bodies by the suspensions of the employment contracts of those who refuse to be vaccinated, it is possible to hire staff with three-month fixed-term contracts that can be extended for another three months (Article 207).
For the respective cases and gaps created in the private sector, the employer is entitled to act at will – without any restrictions.
And the many (other) businesses?
As the provisions mentioned above refer only to specific categories of employees, it is obvious that no other category is under them – at least for the time being.
It is therefore obvious that all other businesses are called upon to manage corresponding problems without coverage from the government and without any directions.
We closed the last article in our series of the relevant topic, noting that: “businesses are completely helpless against any employee who refuses (even for non-medical reasons) to be vaccinated. Let’s hope that, soon, they will be provided with the absolutely necessary legislative tools to manage such situations.”
The State, however, chose not to take full responsibility and the relevant (but necessary) political costs. It currently limited the measures taken to specific categories of employees.
The burden and responsibility is passed on, therefore – unjustly, to businesses that are called upon to solve intractable problems: Tolerance (?) of those who (even for non-medical reasons) refuse to be vaccinated, management of problems that may arise in production or customer service, safeguarding the lives and health of employees and their families – especially those belonging to vulnerable groups.
It is desirable (in the context of the directions of the President of the Republic but also, of course, of the scientific community) for the State to take the absolutely necessary measures.
The soonest possible.-
P.S. A brief version of this article has been published in MAKEDONIA Newspaper (August 1st, 2021).
Disclaimer: the information provided in this article is not (and is not intended to) constitute legal advice. Legal advice can only be offered by a competent attorney and after the latter takes into consideration all the relevant to your case data that you will provide them with. See here for more details.