Almost all employers' organisations in Belgium want to require the Covid Safe Ticket (CST) in the workplace so companies who want to exclude non-vaccinated employees can do so, but unions and experts are not in favour.
As the CST will be more widely used in Belgium from Monday, technology federation Agoria launched a proposal to allow companies to use the pass for staff and visitors.
"We have known about the vaccination coverage in the companies for a few weeks now, but we also want the tools to do things. Those who refuse to use the CST are also a threat to their colleagues," Bart Steukers from Agoria told Het Laatste Nieuws.
"In that case, companies should be able to send those people home and put them out of work for a day without pay," he added. "Those who do get vaccinated also feel worried about those who do not and feel held hostage by them."
In Italy, the regulation has already been in place for a few weeks: employers are allowed to ask their employees for their health pass, called a "green card." Those who refuse are suspended and lose their wages.
Agoria's proposal has received a large amount of support from other employers' organisations, and the Federation of Belgian Enterprises (FEB) also spoke out in favour of the plan.
"The FEB has long been an advocate of the intelligent application of CST to boost the vaccination rate. We are convinced that vaccination is the only way out of the pandemic," said the FEB's CEO Pieter Timmermans. "Agoria's appeal clearly shows that this is very much alive in companies."
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Danny Van Assche of Unizo, the organisation for the self-employed, called it a particularly good proposal, as non-vaccinated people in companies could be a danger to colleagues with underlying diseases, for example.
"In that case, you have to be able to keep non-vaccinated people out," he told Het Nieuwsblad. According to Unizo, many employees also indicate that they would like to know who in the company is not vaccinated.
However, while the employers are in favour of the idea, they also realise that the roll-out would not be simple.
The Flemish network of companies (Voka) also supports the plan in principle, "but the implementation is a complex affair," according to spokesperson Eric Laureys.
"First and foremost, a legal basis must be created to regulate this, and an external company will be needed to check the pass. And withdrawing pay is also anything but evident," he told the newspaper.
"Employers are responsible for safety at work, but nobody wants unrest on the shop floor. If you say as an employer that you are going to withdraw your wages, you immediately have a strike on your hands," Laureys said. "If we are eager to introduce it? No, not really."
Therefore, both Voka and Unizo are asking whether it would not be better to make vaccination against Covid-19 mandatory in general, arguing that it would solve long, separate discussions about compulsory vaccination in the healthcare sector and other companies.
"We certainly want to have the debate on this. At a time when it is difficult to find personnel, we could do without unrest and strikes in the workplace," they said. "Perhaps it is then easier to impose the obligation on everyone."
'The opposite effect'
By contrast, the trade unions stated that they were surprised that the employers are coming up with the proposal, as the Supreme Council for Prevention and Protection at Work - between unions and employers - agreed last week not to link any advantages or disadvantages to the vaccination.
In practice, this means that rewarding someone for being vaccinated is not allowed, but neither is denying access to the building to someone who has not been vaccinated.
"There was an agreement to focus on all the measures provided for in the Generic Guide: keeping a distance, providing face masks, hand gel and teleworking where possible," said ABVV spokesperson Gina Heyrman.
"Additionally, we will continue to push for maximum vaccination. But the Council agreed that the use of CST on the shop floor is not possible," she added.
For Lode Godderis, professor of occupational medicine at KU Leuven, the basic rules of teleworking, social distancing and face masks are much more important to stop the coronavirus from spreading.
"I understand the desire to get the motivation for vaccination as high as possible and to create a safe working environment, but we also need to look at the current reality," he said on Flemish radio on Thursday.
"It seems that the vaccine does protect against the symptoms of the disease, but does not completely stop its spread, even in the workplace," Godderis added. "I fear this might have this opposite effect."
In the meantime, Federal Employment Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne also expressed his concern and wonders whether an obligation to use the CST in the workplace might conflict with the principle of confidentiality of the health data of employees towards their employers.
According to Dermagne, the topic is on the agenda of the next Consultative Committee, which is scheduled to take place in the second half of November.