In January 2020, maintenance firm Pimlico Plumbers announced they would be introducing a policy which would require new workers to be vaccinated against coronavirus.

The London-based company has drafted up new employment contracts to include the requirement for its workforce of over 400 people.

There has been significant backlash to this, and raises questions as to the legality and morality of the decision, and where the line is drawn between safety and bodily autonomy.

Despite this, Pimlico Plumbers has defended its ‘no jab, no job’ policy, although employment lawyers have questioned whether or not this would be legally enforceable.

The Facts

Pimlico Plumbers (PP) is a property maintenance company, founded by businessman Charlie Mullins. Founded in 1979, the London-based firm offers services such as plumbing, central heating installation, drainage and carpentry.

Charlie Mullins, now the chairman of the firm, has drafted up new employment contracts that require workers to have the vaccine for coronavirus. The ‘no jab, no job’ policy is being planned for all employees at the firm, with over four hundred workers on their payroll.

In an interview with City A.M., Mullins said, “No vaccine, no job…. When we go off to Africa and Caribbean countries, we have to have a jab for malaria – we don’t think about it, we just do it. So why would we accept something within our country that’s going to kill us when we can have a vaccine to stop it?”

Mullins has offered to foot the bill for private vaccinations for all of his workers, if it were ever allowed in the UK.

The vaccine is not yet available privately, and Mullins has said that would not “pay to jump the queue”, but admits inoculating his staff would be “money well spent.” He expects the costs of this to be an estimated £800,000.

There are employment lawyers who have challenged this. Nick Wilcox, a partner at BDBF, a London-based law firm, said mandatory vaccinations “could be an issue.”

He added that if an employee has a religious or ideological belief, they should not be forced to take a vaccination simply to work.

Other employment lawyers have also expressed other concerns about such a requirement, believing that attempts to force workers to take the vaccine would open up a legal can of worms, in the form of discrimination claims and constructive dismissal, opening employers up to potentially expensive compensation claims.

The debate between people who agree with mandatory vaccinations and those against it seems to be similar to the debate between those who think wearing a mask should be made mandatory versus though who see it as a fundamental attack on our rights. For many people the issue comes down to safety. Safety for ourselves and others. 

We’ve been using vaccines for 225 years. The first successful vaccine was against smallpox and was administered by Edward Jenner in 1796. The way to eradicate a contagious disease is to vaccinate as many people as possible to stop the spread of it. If there are few people that can get the disease, then the disease itself dies out. This is why we no longer have smallpox deaths. 

Of course, when it comes to injecting oneself, there comes a lot of concern and worry in how it will react with other medications or health conditions. Doctors around the world are answering people’s questions and dispelling myths around the workability of this vaccine. The British Heart Foundation, even came out with the following statement: No vaccine will be approved unless it is considered safe for people with long-term conditions, including heart and circulatory conditions, and including older people.”

Even when travelling to particular countries we have to vaccinate. For example, to travel to Ghana you must have taken the yellow fever vaccine. This is not just to protect yourself, but to protect everyone else in the country. No doubt, there will be people who do not want to take it for religious reasons and will be exempt. I am almost certain those people will be exempt from PP’s policy.

This vaccination ‘debate’ has become a victim to scaremongering and rumours. The idea that being told to vaccinate before going into premises is a consequence of our losing our free will is missing the point.

Whilst I understand the urgency to get back to work as quickly as possible, and the desire to keep workers safe, I fundamentally disagree with PP’s decision to make vaccinations mandatory. There is a fine line between free choice and coercion, and PP have crossed that line.

The debate around mandatory vaccinations is quite nuanced. There are a few people who believe that vaccinations should be mandatory (even if it means by force), and people that do not trust vaccinations at all and believe in total bodily autonomy.

Most people believe that it should be a personal choice as to whether or not to take the vaccine, though vaccinations are highly encouraged.

In this context, where is the line drawn between free choice and coercion? My answer is simple; when a company has any form of leverage or power over its employees (outside reasonable parameters) and weaponises it against them.

Everybody has free will and free choice. The issue here is that the consequences of not taking the vaccine would result in dismissal, which is a huge moral and ethical concern.

Charlie Mullins defends his ‘no jab, no job’ policy. Video credit: Jeremy Vine on 5

I cannot attempt to justify PP’s stance under the illusion of ‘safety’. To threaten an employee with dismissal if they refuse to take the vaccine is nothing short of blackmail. Should an employee be forced to choose between their beliefs and their livelihood?

Bodily autonomy is a fundamental right of UK citizens. If the UK government does not have the legal authority to mandate vaccines, so why should PP be allowed to do so? The choice to take a vaccine or not should be down to the individual themselves.

I’m against mandatory vaccinations for employees. To weaponise a person’s livelihood against them undermines the right to bodily autonomy.

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Afshan D'souza-Lodhi is a scriptwriter and poet based in Manchester.

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Aaron Fenton-Hewitt is an aspiring journalist and political commentator. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Film from London Metropolitan University, and a Master's in Writing for Creative and Professional Practice from Middlesex University. He wishes to continue his academic career, with a PhD in Politics or related field.

Aaron is also a freelance photographer, an avid foodie and an Arsenal supporter.

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