Equality ombudsman: Unvaccinated soldiers are not discriminated against

Ljubljana – Slovenia’s equal opportunities ombudsman has established that there has been no indirect discrimination against unvaccinated members of the Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF) after he was prompted to look into the situation by a soldiers’ trade union. He did however issue a warning.

In its petition to the ombudsman, the Slovenian Soldiers’ Trade Union (SVS) claimed that unvaccinated soldiers were indirectly discriminated against as they were unable to perform certain tasks and hence risked receiving a poor performance review.

However, Advocate of the Principle of Equality Miha Lobnik said on Monday that indirect discrimination could not be said to exist in this case, as vaccination or non-vaccination could not be defined as a personal circumstance protected under the act on protection against discrimination, such as race, gender or religion etc.

Based on a regulation in force since the end of July, SAF members must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to be deployed abroad. Moreover, soldiers who are fully vaccinated are also given priority for deployment on certain missions in Slovenia, the trade union said in its petition to Lobnik.

The trade union said that a number of its members had contacted it about the unfair and unjust treatment of those who have not been vaccinated, alleging this to be discriminatory treatment. It also said the unvaccinated soldiers were not able to perform certain tasks despite their willingness to be tested.

The refusal to vaccinate is a matter of “views”, which implies a reference to a personal circumstance of belief, argued the trade union.

While tejecting the union’s view, the ombudsman did warn that only those soldiers who are not allowed to get vaccinated for health reasons or who refuse to get a jab on grounds of religion or belief could be seen as being discriminated against.

Lobnik’s definition of the term “belief” stems from a ruling by the Supreme Court which referred to the time when protection against discrimination in Slovenia was still governed by the act on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment, which was later replaced by the act on protection against discrimination.

Under the ruling, a personal view or a particular circumstance, such as a distrust of the pharmaceutical industry, opposition to vaccination or testing, or rejection of official medicine, cannot be understood as a belief which constitutes a protected personal circumstance in the sense of a “religion or belief”, Lobnik explained.

He also highlighted that he had recently already established that the requirement for people to meet the recovered-vaccinated-tested rule to access services, goods or venues is not discriminatory against the unvaccinated who could get vaccinated but have not opted to do so.