With the winter flu season approaching and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Italy on Thursday was set to make the country's "Green Pass" – a document showing proof of immunity – obligatory for all employees.
The law, which would penalize workers who are unvaccinated or do not have proof of a recent negative coronavirus test, is expected to come into effect on Oct. 15.
"The government is ready to speed up on the 'Green Pass'... (for) not just the public sector, but private too," Regional Affairs Minister Mariastella Gelmini said Wednesday.
The pass is a certificate that shows if someone is vaccinated against COVID-19, has tested negative in the previous 48 hours or has recently recovered from the virus.
It is currently required by everyone in Italy who wants to eat inside restaurants, go to the cinema and sports stadiums, board intercity trains and buses or domestic flights, and for teachers.
Just over 40 million people are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus in Italy, which roughly equals 75% of the population over the age of 12.
The government hopes to bump that figure up by another 4 million.
"Only by immunizing the large majority of the population can we keep transmission under control. The vaccine is the only weapon we have against COVID," Gelmini told Rai radio.
Under the new law, workers failing to produce a pass will face fines of up to 1,000 euros ($1,176), according to media reports. Unjustified absences due to failures to secure a pass could lead to the employee being suspended, they said.
Trade unions have urged the government to provide free coronavirus tests for unvaccinated workers.
"They have to be free, people cannot pay to work," said Maurizio Landini, head of the largest trade union confederation, the CGIL.
But Prime Minister Mario Draghi fears free tests will disincentivize people from getting the jab.
Italy was the first European country to be hit by a wave of coronavirus cases in February 2020, and it was plunged into a major recession. More than 130,000 people with COVID-19 have since died.
Italy is not the first European country to make workers have either the vaccine or regular tests.
Since Sept. 13, unvaccinated employees in the private and public sectors in Greece have had to be tested at their own expense once or twice a week, depending on their profession.