The European space agency ESTEC in Noordwijk has been asking all nearly three thousand employees for proof for six days that they have been vaccinated against corona or at least tested negative. Anyone who cannot show such proof will not be admitted to the Noordwijk location and will have to work from home.
The approach goes against the rules that apply in the Netherlands: according to the cabinet, employers in the Netherlands are not allowed to ask for a corona admission ticket. Vaccination is voluntary in the Netherlands and Dutch law now offers “no possibility” for asking for proof at work, says the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment.
The European Space Research and Technology Center (ESTEC) in Noordwijk responds that employees are not forced to vaccinate, as they can also choose to be tested, at the expense of the organization. In addition, “the Dutch rules regarding health and safety do not apply,” says director Franco Ongaro.
ESTEC is the largest site and the ‘technical heart’ of the European Space Agency (ESA). According to him, the ESA is authorized to issue health and safety instructions for all sites in Europe. These instructions must at least be in line with the standards of the national legislation of the country where the site is located, according to Ongaro, but ESA can also set “higher standards” to protect employees on site.
Position foreign organization
Whether ESA is right remains to be seen. The Ministry of Social Affairs denies that foreign companies are allowed to follow rules other than national ones. “Foreign companies must also comply with Dutch law,” said a spokesperson.
Yet the position of a foreign institution such as ESA is completely different from that of a foreign company in the Netherlands, says Paul van der Heijden, professor of international employment law at Leiden University. He points out that institutions such as ESA have their own labor law rules.
Employers are not allowed to demand a corona admission ticket in the Netherlands, but can ask whether employees have been vaccinated, if there is a good reason for this. Employees are then not obliged to answer them.
Employers are also allowed to make a ‘moral appeal’ to employees to be vaccinated, just like the government itself does. The cabinet recognizes the “dilemmas” for companies and institutions to ensure a safe working environment without mandatory corona vaccinations, previously outgoing Minister De Jonge (Public Health, CDA) and State Secretary Wiersma (Social Affairs, VVD) stated in letters to the House of Representatives. The cabinet is investigating the necessity and desirability of a corona admission ticket at work, especially in healthcare and education. The results are expected early next month.
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