BARCELONA (Reuters) – Volkswagen’s Spanish car maker SEAT has recommended unvaccinated and vaccinated employees sit separately in its canteen at its plant outside Barcelona to protect workers and ensure operational activity, the company said on Friday.
The move, which involves having a separate section for workers who have not had a COVID-19 vaccine, has been in place for the past month, a SEAT spokesperson told Reuters.
The initiative is one the first of its kind implemented in Spain.
“A few weeks ago, it was decided with the agreement of union representatives, to set up areas within the company canteens to protect unvaccinated workers,” SEAT said in a statement. “The areas for those who are unvaccinated have the strictest COVID measures to protect their health.”
It said these were recommendations and the company could not force people to eat separately.
The car manufacturer said the objective of the measure was to protect all workers, both unvaccinated and vaccinated, as well as to “guarantee the operational activity of the company”.
Mask-wearing is compulsory throughout the factory, except for the canteen. SEAT said 96% of its workers were vaccinated and received their doses at the factory.
“This is to guarantee the health of those who are not vaccinated as well as those who are vaccinated,” Matias Carnero, the top union leader for the UGT union at SEAT, told Reuters.
He said of the 11,000 workers at the plant in Martorell, outside Barcelona, five ate separately this week.
Vaccination is not compulsory in Spain, which has fully vaccinated 79% of its population. It has not seen the kind of large-scale anti-vaccination protests common in several other European countries and vaccination rates have been advancing in line with the government’s goal.
The move comes as nations and companies across Europe tighten their policies around vaccination with the onset of winter and a rising number of COVID-19 cases.
Some countries have made vaccinations compulsory for all or part of the population as they grapple with rising rates including Austria, which said on Friday it would make COVID-19 vaccines compulsory.
(Reporting by Joan Faus, Writing by Jessica Jones; Editing by Edmund Blair)