As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to rise across Australia, governments are ramping up their vaccination efforts in order to hit vaccination numbers that may finally see us released from this waking nightmare.
However, since the jabs were first announced, mandatory vaccination has been a source of contention, as requiring medical intervention in order to work runs into highly dubious ethical territory.
There are some instances in Australia in which an employer can demand that you receive a vaccine, but, in most cases, if you don’t want to get the jab, it’s not legal or ethical for an employer to request you to.
Not getting a vaccine on the basis of fear or caution is understandable, but these vaccines have been demonstrated to be safe by international and domestic health bodies. They have undergone the same rigorous safety testing as all other vaccines and medicines in Australia and pose an incredibly low risk to anyone getting them. Millions in Australia already have with virtually no complains or issues.
As vaccination rates increase and workplaces open back up, we’re likely to see the ‘no jab. no job’ debate heat up. Here’s what we know so far.
What Does the Law Say About Mandatory Vaccines for Work?
Australia’s official policy on vaccines is that they should be voluntary and free. The federal government has already announced that it will not empower businesses to mandate vaccines amongst their employees.
According to Safe Work Australia, the government’s regulatory body on workplace safety, employers have “a duty to eliminate or if not possible, minimise, so far as is reasonably practicable, the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace”.
This can include vaccination requirements, but only in as far as work is likely to expose those vulnerable to COVID or to transmit the disease more than other industries.
This being said, more workplaces are beginning to mandate their staff receive vaccines. While most employees at these companies seem to be okay with the measures, it is yet to be seen whether the requirements will be able to stand up to legal scrutiny if challenged.
Fair Work has also said that any businesses that wants to require vaccination for their employees or customers as a condition of entry should seek legal guidance, as this is likely to fall foul of discrimination laws.
Similarly, health and safety laws likely won’t protect an employee who refuses to work in a place with unvaccinated colleagues or customers.
While the federal laws are basically on the side of workers’ rights and individual freedoms here, states and territories can mandate vaccines for certain industries and indeed already have.
Who is Required to Get a Vaccine?
SPC food processing, a canned goods provider in Shepparton, Victoria, was the first company in Australia to mandate vaccines for their employees. Soon after, Alliance Airlines joined them in their stance toward employee vaccinations.
Since then, Qantas Airlines has also stated it will require its frontline workers to be fully vaccinated by 15 November, with the rest of its staff vaccinated by 31 March 2022.
Virgin Australia, too,has implemented a similar policy for its staff — however Virgin chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka has said she isn’t comfortable with vaccine passports domestically as it could divide the nation.
In Tasmania, MONA has become the first arts institution to mandate vaccines for its staff. Eccentric owner and founder David Walsh told staff on Thursday that some of them “might think we are trampling on their rights, but the one right they think we are restricting doesn’t exist”.
“Our staff don’t have the right to trample on the rights of their colleagues,” he said.
“When you go to work unvaccinated there’s a small chance you’ll get COVID and an even smaller chance you’ll die. But each time you take that risk there is a small chance you’ll kill someone else … That’s not okay.”
Walsh said that he would like to mandate vaccinations for all MONA customers but that such a policy might exclude children, which he says he doesn’t want to do.
The above are all private companies choosing to implement policies for their staff. That will mean they stand on somewhat more tenuous ground legally speaking than government bodies mandating vaccinations for public servants.
The National Cabinet has mandated that residential aged care workers get the vaccine as a condition of working in an aged care facility.
This applies to all aged care staff in private, state and territory, and commonwealth-run sites.
In addition, Queensland has issued a public health direction for health workers working with diagnosed cases of COVID-19 to be vaccinated. Queensland Police Service is also requiring vaccinations for all of its staff, with everyone working for the force to be fully vaccinated by 23 January 2022.
Western Australia has issued a similar directive for quarantine centre workers and New South Wales has said the same for airport and quarantine workers.
WA has recently mandated that all healthcare workers across the state be vaccinated by the start of next year. The state revealed that only 68 percent of healthcare workers in WA are fully vaccinated.
The above are fairly specific cases and its easy to see why people in these industries that are predominantly public facing and with a high risk of transmission are moving on mandatory vaccines early.
However, it’s likely to become something that is more and more common as the debate drags on and states look to permanently opening up post-COVID.
While employers cannot legally require an employee to be vaccinated, they can make life difficult for the unvaccinated. Not all companies have yet stated their position, but, anecdotally, there are reports of places like universities asking students for vaccine certificates in order to enter buildings.
It’s likely that sooner or later some of these policies will be brought before the courts and its unknown which way the law will swing between individual freedoms and public safety.
You Don’t Have to, But You Should
There are serious workers’ rights issues at stake with the idea of mandatory vaccinations, and the government seems to be siding with the protection of these rights.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that there will not be an expansion of mandatory vaccinations beyond the above mentioned specific roles. We can probably expect that hospital staff working with COVID-19 patients, airline staff, and quarantine staff across Australia will be required to get the vaccine.
“We do not have a mandatory vaccination policy in this country,” Morrison has said. “We do not have that. We are not proposing to have that. That is not changing.”
Rather than mandate vaccines with ‘stick’ approaches, most businesses appear to be leaning toward the much friendlier ‘carrot’ option.
Many are now granting paid vaccination leave for their staff as well as providing other incentives like additional sick pay to deal with any complications from the vaccine. Feeling rough for a few days is normal and to be expected in some people so this only seems fair.
Hospitality organisations, too, are leaning toward the carrot option with discounts and deals for those who are vaccinated. In NSW, the government is already in talks with representatives from the hospitality industry on how access for vaccinated people might work to ease us out of lockdown.
Vaccination protects not only yourself from serious illness but those around you, too. If you’re worried about the jab or think it’s not something you need to get right now, check out our interview with a GP on all the questions around AstraZeneca to see why the vaccine is totally worth the absolutely miniscule risk.
If you’re in need of some vaccine inspo, check out our round up of the best vaccination ads from around the world. We promise that they are a lot better than our own.
As the virus continues to spread across the country, vaccination is looking increasingly like our only route out of the pandemic. The quicker we can get this done, the quicker we can get back to doing the things we love, seeing the people we love and putting all of this behind us.