TRADE unions face a looming dilemma over whether to support workers who refuse Covid jags and so clash with their employers and colleagues, a leading public health expert has warned.

Andrew Watterson, professor of occupational and environmental health at Stirling University, said unions had so far been urging vaccination take-up, and for making key workers a priority.

But as lockdown restrictions ease and working from home ceases to be the norm, the same unions now have to consider how to handle members who refuse vaccine.

In a paper published in today’s Scottish Left Review, Prof Watterson was also critical of how the vaccination programme had been rolled out in Scotland and the rest of the UK to key workers.

He writes “Serious fault lines in UK and Scottish-specific health and workplace policy making and evidence gathering were exposed.”

He goes on: “Dilemmas exist for unions too. Unions argued for collective action to press government, employers, and regulators to raise and apply the best possible Covid health and safety standards available.

“Assuming vaccine delivery and vaccine hesitancy problems have been addressed sensitively, unions are now faced with new problems - in the form of workers choosing to refuse vaccination.

“Employers may well decide that if such workers refuse vaccination and cannot be redeployed to other work, then dismissal will result.

“This is a matter for employment tribunals and the courts to resolve.

“If employers do not move or dismiss ‘refusers’, will unions then argue on health and safety grounds that refusers put other employees and the public at risk and so will not work with them?

“Additionally, if ‘equitable’ vaccine passports are introduced, will unions argue those who choose not to get vaccinations and hence lack passports, as distinct from those unable to get vaccinations who lack such passports, should not be admitted to clubs, pubs, shops etc where they may put employees at risk of contracting Covid?”

Dave Moxham, deputy general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, agreed unions faced a “challenge”, and would try to limit “flashpoints” through talks between employers and employees.

He said: “We would generally be advising members wherever possible to vaccinate because that’s part of the public health message.

“But where people do have incredibly strong views or particular fears in terms of a vaccination, we would, on an individual basis, be recommending that unions try and negotiate with employers on adjustments to work patterns in order to accommodate that.

“We certainly wouldn’t be in favour of people being dismissed on the basis of that. But we recognise it is a meaningful challenge.

"We are strongly in favour of mass vaccination, but recognise the rights of individual employees to do otherwise."