A very hot potato has remained firmly in the hands of each company.
You are in an awkward position. The benefit of vaccination in the workplace is obvious. But the legal situation is unclear. In the absence of a public health ordinance, they would rely on instructions to employees to be judged lawful and appropriate. There would inevitably be legal challenges.
In a piece of advice released on Thursday, the Fair Work Ombudsman said: “In some cases, employers may be able to request that their employees be vaccinated against COVID-19. Employers should exercise caution when considering making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory in their workplace and seek legal advice. “
ACTU secretary Sally McManus questions the legality of employers to enforce vaccinations aside from public health orders, saying support and encouragement for employees is the better way.
Aside from legal challenge, some companies would face division among their workers, possible layoffs and voluntary departures. When Western Australia introduced compulsory vaccination for quarantine workers – certainly a very reasonable requirement – it lost some of them.
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus questions the legality of employers to enforce vaccinations apart from public health orders.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui
Simon Longstaff, director of the ethics center, points out the difference between a compulsory vaccination and a condition for something.
Vaccination could be a condition for a person working in a company, just like putting on safety gear for certain jobs, Longstaff says. “If you are unwilling to accept the condition, you can choose not to work for an employer who imposes such a condition.”
But “conditions” form a continuum. For example, vaccination for working in a hospital is very different from the vaccination needed to keep a job with minimal risk.
This leads us to the different ways to skin the cat – and to the vaccination “passports”. The government already has the beginnings of a vaccination record system, although they will not use that name – because their “base” does not like the idea. It calls it a certificate.
The vaccination certificate is the iron fist in a velvet glove to impose vaccinations.
Once we hit 70% or 80% and people are registered as vaccinated, proof of vaccination will be the gateway to freedom. Conversely, the lack of a passport would limit people’s options for action.
A vaccination certificate could be just as necessary for international travel as a national passport. On a more mundane level, dining in a restaurant might be required, just as people are currently being asked to sign up. It might also be necessary to attend music or sporting events. Or to enter the parliament building.
Forcing people to get a COVID vaccination, directly or indirectly, sometimes involves competing rights – your right to choose whether to accept a vaccine, my right to be safe at work, and the community’s right to protection from a very serious and potentially fatal one Disease.
It is not as simple as “no jab no pay” for vaccinating children who are only denied state benefits. In the case of COVID-19, in extreme cases, we are talking about people’s access to jobs and livelihoods.
So where are we?
When people are dealing with vulnerable people – most obviously in elderly care – the rights of those being cared for clearly take precedence over workers’ right to vote. The national cabinet rightly supported the vaccination requirement for elderly care workers.
Quarantined, disabled and healthcare workers will or should be treated equally by those who employ them.
There are many other frontline workers, including those in supermarkets and the hospitality industry. This brings us back to the subject of coercion, but especially in professions with high fluctuation it could be tackled by giving preference to the vaccinated. That would be tough, but less tough than laying off workers.
When the vaccine has been offered to all those eligible, we will have a better idea of the minority of the unvaccinated people we are dealing with.
During the rollout, it is important to minimize this pool – in order to motivate as many apathetic people as possible and to convince those who hesitate.
In the latest government poll on “Vaccine Sentiment” released Thursday, 79 percent of Australians are planning to or have already been vaccinated. According to the rollout boss, Lieutenant General John Frewen, 14 percent of the rest have made a decision and only 7 percent said they would not be vaccinated.
Incentives can help, although they shouldn’t be as expensive or extensive as Anthony Albanese’s $ 300 for everyone vaccinated. Much better advertising is also needed, including niche campaigns where vaccination is below average.
The Australian community has proven remarkably compliant during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite some reluctance towards AstraZeneca, we are lagging behind on our vaccination rate primarily because of opposition or public reluctance, but because of the mistakes in introduction. With improvements in this regard and a combination of the positive and negative incentives of the vaccination record, we can likely achieve vaccination levels high enough to keep the community safe without having to continue down the path of coercion.
Michelle Grattan is a Professorial Fellow at the University of Canberra. This article was first published on The Conversation.