Sappi employees embrace safety-first approach – Over 80% have chosen to vaccinate against Covid-19; vaccine mandate introduced
Sappi’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic and Covid-19 focuses on three elements: keeping our people safe, supporting those in need, and ensuring that our business adapts to the new realities so as to emerge stronger and more able to deliver on our purpose of building a thriving world and our Thrive25 strategy for growth.
Commenting on the response by Sappi’s employees, Sappi Chief Executive Officer Steve Binnie said: “I am very pleased that our employees in South Africa have responded so strongly in support of our values by using the opportunities created to vaccinate themselves and their family members. As at the beginning of December over 80% of Sappi’s almost 5,000 South African employees have received at least one vaccine with 73% already fully vaccinated.
What makes this achievement even more praiseworthy and significant is the broad uptake across our offices, forestry operations and production facilities, the pro-active stance of the team undertaking our roll-out as well as the willingness of our staff located in rural and peri-urban settings to embrace the need to get vaccinated.”
In addition, as soon as Sappi was eventually allowed to open its own vaccinations centres in August 2021 the company was able to overcome the logistical challenges for staff and their families to access vaccines. This resulted in the rapid administration of over 8,000 vaccines to almost 4,000 staff members, 3000 contractors and just over 1,100 family members.
Fergus Marupen, Group Head Human Resources indicated that: “Globally, Sappi’s Covid-19 response throughout has been consistent with our value statement “As One Sappi, we do business safely, with integrity and courage, making smart decisions that we execute with speed.” While we do not have access to detailed statistics for our 7,000 employees across North, Central and South America, Europe and Australasia, we are aware that a significant number of them were already vaccinated prior to the introduction of any national vaccine mandates.
Keeping our people safe has encompassed a wide range of pro-active activities focused on keeping staff informed and able to continue working: policy updates regarding travel; support and advice to individuals, using our learning and development teams to boost shopfloor communication; implementing new protocols at all offices and mills; introducing signage and barriers for safe work; providing weekly reports to monitor and respond to pandemic exposure; establishing rotation rosters; enabling work-from-home for those whose roles allowed for this; launching communication and information campaigns, in particular to deal with vaccine hesitancy and fake news. As people became ill with Covid-19 Sappi provided support and in the cases of the 17 employees lost to Covid-19, further support was provided to family and colleagues.”
Binnie continued: “Globally, we continue to advocate for vaccination while following the guidance and legal framework within the countries where we operate. The actions of our staff combined with our business approach enabled Sappi to return to profitability during 2021. To fully benefit from this turn-around and to drive strong growth through 2022 we need a company (and countries) not hampered by avoidable disruption.”
For Sappi’s South African business, the next step in keeping our people safe is the introduction of a mandatory vaccination policy as of 01 February 2022. Marupen explained: “While Sappi respects people’s right to choose, the company also recognises that in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993, it has a legal and moral duty as an employer to protect the health and safety of all employees at work. Non-vaccinated Sappi employees who work with colleagues in a shared work environment pose a Covid-19 risk that can be avoided through vaccination.
Therefore, after conducting a thorough risk assessment, Sappi determined that vaccination is an inherent requirement for people who work in certain positions. Protocols are being put in place for those employees who have a medical or other reason for choosing not to be vaccinated. Cases will be dealt with on an individual basis, guided by the consolidated directions issued in June 2021 by the Department of Employment and Labour.”
In conclusion, Binnie stated: “The most important and effective way to keep our people safe remains for them to be vaccinated. To this end we have made our position very clear. As a company we fully support the advice and calls for people to get vaccinated. The fight against Covid-19 starts by preventing avoidable deaths and reducing the severity of infection and need for hospitalisation. Beyond care for the individuals, we have a responsibility to protect our business and the livelihood of everyone who works at Sappi. But beyond Sappi, every employee has the joint responsibility of ensuring that their actions protect the livelihoods of their families, their communities and those people in our value chain who rely on Sappi.”