Workers at a leading British plumbing firm had been told they would lose their jobs if they didn’t agree to being vaccinated, but the firm was forced to stage a U-turn as experts questioned the legality of this requirement.

Charlie Mullins, chairman of Pimlico Plumbers, a privately owned business that employs 400 tradespeople in London, had said in an interview: “No vaccine, no job…When we go off to Africa and Caribbean countries, we have to have a jab for malaria — we don’t think about it, we just do it. So why would we accept something within our country that’s going to kill us when we can have a vaccine to stop it?”

Technically, antimalaria treatment is administered orally with tablets, but the controversial COVID-19 comments still sparked a debate about a requirement for vaccinations.

The company has since had to put out a statement that appeared to contradict the comments of its founder, saying: “Nobody will be forced to have a vaccination by Pimlico. Just to be clear, as a company we believe that vaccinations are the way of the future to keep people safe from COVID-19.

“However, that doesn’t mean that anyone should be forced to have a jab, and as a company not only can we not do that, but we would never advocate such a policy; it would be an outrage.”

Read: Can your employer require you to take a COVID-19 vaccine?

Mullins had said in the interview with news site City AM: “We’re going to change their contracts to say — whatever the wording might be — that you’re required to have a vaccine. It’s going to be standard.”

Legal experts say such a change in contracts without consent from employees would have broken employment laws.

Sarah Calderwood, an employment lawyer at solicitors Slater Heelis, told the newspaper: “Employers enforcing this change without employees’ express and implied agreement would be in breach of contract and employees would be entitled to resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal.”

Read: U.K. becomes first country to roll out AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine as tighter lockdowns imminent

The U.K. Government has been offering free inoculations to some citizens, but the entrepreneur, who is thought to be Britain’s first millionaire plumber, wants to pay up to £1 million ($1.37 million) to privately purchase supplies to inoculate staff.  

“Once it’s out there and it becomes private, I’m happy to pay for all our staff to have it,” he said, adding. “We won’t be employing people in the future unless they’ve got a vaccine. If they want to sit at home and not lead a normal life then, don’t have a vaccine.”

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