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By Allyson Fletcher
Business Improvement COVID 19 Human Resources News

Vaccines in Australia have always been voluntary, or have they?

Remember when the Victorian Government announced the “no jab, no play” policy? This legislation was officially introduced on the 1st of January 2016. It required all children to be fully vaccinated unless they had an exemption for medical, religious, or other relevant reasons to be enrolled in childcare or kindergarten in Victoria.

Now the country is facing another critical vaccine decision. Australia’s Prime Minister, the Honourable Scott Morrison MP, has stated that the decision to mandate vaccines for COVID-19 will be left up to businesses.

Regardless of industry, there’s no denying COVID-19 has severely impacted most companies right across the country. Both Victorian and New Sales Wales businesses currently face long-term lockdowns in their respective states and struggle with the frequency of lockdowns caused by fluctuating COVID numbers.

Melbourne currently holds the unfortunate record of being in the longest lockdown (just over 225 days), but Sydney’s most recent outbreak may rival this. As the virus has evolved from one strain to the next, businesses have had difficulty implementing new changes on the fly to better protect their employees. This includes keeping up with the ever-changing rules and regulations that state and local governments outline.

As of late, some savvy business owners have considered implementing further changes to how they operate to continue to survive (remember the word ‘pivot’ anyone?). The beginning of last year saw many businesses allow employees to start working from home for the first time, with many businesses having to introduce a Working from Home policy after the fact.  COVID safe workplaces were also implemented with hand sanitiser, social distancing, and temperature checks being some of the implemented changes.

Eighteen months on and businesses are looking for more ways in which they can keep operating and return to some sort of normality. Many employers have been considering whether they should introduce compulsory COVID-19 vaccines to their workforce. Major companies have already announced their intention of introducing mandatory vaccines, such as QANTAS, Virgin Australia, SPC, Telstra, and Herald Sun Newspaper.

You may be wondering whether you can have your business introduce mandatory vaccines also? Before you make that decision, there are many factors to consider. The Fair Work Ombudsman has provided some guidance around mandatory vaccinations for businesses. The guidance has outlined a 4-tier system for employers to consider when deciding whether they want/should be implementing mandatory vaccines for their workforce.

  • Tier 1 covers those who have an increased risk of infection g. hotel quarantine workers
  • Tier 2 covers those with close contact with the vulnerable g. aged care workers
  • Tier 3 covers those who have face-to-face contact with customers and other members of the public g. retail
  • Tier 4 covers those with little to no face-to-face contact with customers and other members of the public e.g. workers who are currently based at home

It’s important to note, however, that you shouldn’t look at the above information as an overall solution for your business and should always consider the wants and needs of your employees. You’ll also need to take into consideration any other factors that will contribute to the company’s decision, such as public health orders and community transmissions.

There are some major hurdles in the way for small to medium businesses who don’t have the resources that the bigger organisations have to be able to move forward with mandating vaccines for their workforce. Especially if they’re facing resistance from workers and associated Unions.  Unfortunately, this is one area that is still very grey, but you will need to consider all the available information before you come to a decision for your workforce and seek the right advice.

If your business needs any help in understanding any of these changes, then please contact one of our friendly HR team who will be more than happy to help and guide you with your company needs.


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