Nautilus responds to the ongoing debate about the need to provide a so-called health passport as evidence of vaccination as countries respond to new Covid variants and consider measures to get their economies moving again
It is highly likely, as in the past with outbreaks of diseases and viruses, that it will soon be a condition for travel and therefore employment in the shipping industry, to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Many countries already insist on proof of vaccinations for diseases such as yellow fever or polio in the form of an International Certificate of Vaccination before entering their borders.
Employers have an obligation to provide a safe working environment. Employees have an obligation to assist their employer to provide that safe working environment and to ensure that their actions or omissions do not endanger themselves or others on board. Here is a direct quote from UK Marine Guidance Note 399:-
'Before a seafarer is appointed to a ship, the maritime employer, including the manning agency or ship management company where they formally employ the seafarer(s), needs to know where each crew member will be travelling to and the risks of infection. They should check the immunisation status of the seafarer and ensure that any missing immunisations are given. They should also check that the appropriate malaria medications and insect bite avoidance measures (e.g. insect repellent sprays) are available on board if the ship is travelling to a destination where there is a risk of malaria.'
The implications of this guidance are clear.
To date, no country has made Covid-19 inoculation compulsory or said it would be required for people crossing its borders. However, there is an ongoing debate about the need to provide a 'health passport' as evidence of vaccination as countries respond to new variants and consider measures to get their economies moving again. It is inevitable that evidence will need to be produced to verify inoculation in some form or other especially for seafarers engaged in international trades. In some countries this appears to already be advancing (e.g. Denmark – details here).
Nautilus believes on the evidence publicly available that vaccination is safe and that members should take the vaccine at the earliest opportunity to protect themselves and minimise the infection risk.
Nautilus is lobbying governments to prioritise seafarers as 'key workers' and to recognise the importance of keeping the maritime supply chain moving. There is a strong need for seafarers to keep themselves and their colleagues safe. The employer has a duty of care to its employees and to provide safe workplaces. It remains evident that vaccinations are safe, and vaccination is a sensible option for seafarers to protect themselves and their colleagues.
Nautilus believes on the evidence publicly available that vaccination is safe and that members should take the vaccine at the earliest opportunity to protect themselves and minimise the infection risk
Advice to members
Nautilus recognises that everyone has a free choice to be vaccinated or not. There is no legal requirement to be vaccinated and an employer cannot force a seafarer to get vaccinated. However, seafarers work and live with colleagues in contained spaces with limited access to specialised medical care – access ashore to which regrettably has been restricted by some governments.
Legally, if a member refuses vaccination while countries demand it to allow entry or airlines insist upon it to allow travel and there is no medical reason for non-vaccination (e.g. immunosuppression), the employer and employee, as a first step, will need to discuss solutions like placement on other vessels in other zones. Members that are in those circumstances are advised to consult Nautilus for advice.
The FNV, TUC and SGB all take the view vaccination is not and must not be compulsory. Nautilus supports this position. However, Nautilus believes there are specific characteristics of the maritime and shipping sector which call for a specific position encouraging vaccination as maritime and shipping professionals must travel to do their job. This places them at additional risk and to mitigate that risk and protect employment vaccination is an obvious mitigation.