Qld employers won’t rule out compulsory vaccination
Workers could be forced to have a COVID-19 vaccine or risk losing their jobs, with major employers not ruling out making the jab compulsory.
Some of the biggest employers in Queensland have left the door open to introducing "no jab, no pay" policies for staff, as the retail sector says mass uptake of the vaccine might be the only way out of the "COVID-normal" way of life.
Domino's, RACQ, UQ and Queensland's two largest local governments would not rule out requiring workers to get the COVID-19 jab yesterday, saying that they'll "assess the merits of the vaccine as more information becomes available".
Other major employers contacted by The Courier-Mail, including Virgin Australia Group, Woolworths, PwC, Commonwealth Bank and the Australian Government's Department of Social Services, had also not yet made a decision regarding staff vaccinations.
It comes after Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce last month said international passengers would require the vaccine to travel.
The issue of whether COVID-19 vaccines could be made compulsory for school students and teachers is also expected to go before National Cabinet.
Australian Retailers Association chief executive Paul Zahra said it was too early to forecast what government or industry would do once a vaccine became available, but that it would be vital for consumer and business confidence, particularly as government stimulus faded.
"Without the vaccine, we are likely to remain suspended in what we are currently calling COVID-normal," Mr Zahra said.
"This leaves many question marks around everyday activities such as workers returning to CBD office locations, the return of regular events - arts, culture, restaurants and entertainment and hence, for retailers all the associated spending on discretionary items like fashion."
Workplace relations specialist Employsure managing director Ed Mallett said COVID-19 vaccinations could potentially be made compulsory for some employees.
"It wouldn't be out of the ordinary for the government to legislate mandatory use of vaccines in certain industries as it becomes available - such as employees engaged in international air travel - to help protect the community from further outbreaks and spread of COVID-19," he said.
There is also speculation over whether the Australian government's "no jab, no pay" policy for childcare rebates will be extended to include the COVID-19 vaccine.
Under the existing policy, family and childcare payments are withheld from Australians who refuse to vaccinate their children for non-medical reasons.
Aged-care workers nationally are already required to have the influenza vaccine, with the only exemptions for people with a history of anaphylaxis or Guillain-Barre syndrome following vaccination and people on check point inhibitor drugs for cancer treatment.
Early learning provider Goodstart Early Learning also declared it a requirement of employment in June, despite it not being compulsory in the childcare sector broadly.
Goodstart declined to comment on whether this would be extended to the COVID-19 vaccine once it was available.
A number of other Queensland companies and entities refused to rule out mandating the vaccine, with most saying they were waiting on advice from health authorities before proceeding.
UQ and RACQ both said they would wait for government advice.
A Brisbane City Council spokesman said the nature of the vaccine's rollout would be a discussion between it, staff and unions, while City of Gold Coast said it was in the "preliminary stages of assessing roll out options for a COVID-19 vaccine."
Domino's Pizza, which is headquartered in Hamilton, indicated it would be open to mandating the jab for delivery drivers and kitchen staff.
"Since the beginning of the pandemic, Domino's has followed the advice and recommendations of health authorities and the government," a Domino's spokeswoman said.
"When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, our approach is no different."
The Pod Cafe, in the leafy northside suburb of Ascot, was among hospitality establishments hoping for a vaccine rollout soon, but owner Patrick Rano said his small business would have the "leverage" to make employees get injected.
"I don't feel I can force them to do it, (but) I have a pretty international staff, so most of them want to get it," Mr Rano said.
"For a big company, I don't have a problem with it."
An Australian government Department of Health spokesperson declined to answer that particular question, but said it was the government's position that any COVID-19 vaccine would be free and voluntary for Aussies.
"The government will continue to consult and take medical advice regarding any additional requirements for those working with the highly vulnerable such as the elderly," they said.
"We are confident, given Australia's high vaccination coverage rates, Australians will take up a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine in equally high numbers."
Griffith University employment relations and human resources lecturer Dr Ben French warned employers risked claims of unfair dismissal and discrimination if they introduced compulsory vaccinations for staff of their own accord, but policies could become commonplace if backed by government.
"For employers' sake, I hope that when the vaccine comes out there will be a government directive around aged care, child care, emergency and healthcare and anywhere there is vulnerable people … similar to government directives we have seen about staff working at aged-care homes," he said. "It's going to be about what is practical and reasonable proportionate to the industry."
Dr French said compulsory vaccination was unlikely to include customer-facing roles in the retail sector, and would not include anyone who was able to work remotely.
Goodstart, with 644 childcare centres nationally, has faced two dismissed cases of unfair dismissal from employees who lost their jobs after refusing flu vaccination on non-medical grounds since the policy was introduced.
Both were filed outside of the time required, however, in a November 18 decision Fair Work Commission deputy president Ingrid Asbury said: "While I do not go so far as to say that the applicant's case lacks merit, it is my view that it is at least equally arguable that the respondent's policy requiring mandatory vaccination is lawful and reasonable in the context of its operations which principally involve the care of children, including children who are too young to be vaccinated or unable to be vaccinated for a valid health reason."
Another former Goodstart employee will have a hearing in January.
She is being represented by lawyer Nathan Buckley, who told Melbourne residentsthat they did not need to wear masks and started a campaign to sue the nation's governments and remove lockdown restrictions.
Qantas declined to comment yesterday on any employee policies in the works
Originally published as Qld employers won't rule out compulsory vaccination