Does the tail wag the dog or vice versa?

Trade union opposition to mandatory vaccinations against the Covid-19 virus continues, primarily because they feel left out of the conversation at SPC. However, the support for at least not dismissing mandatory vaccinations is growing.

In The Australian on August 18 2021, the lawyer advising SPC on its vaccination policy, Joel Zyngier of Gilchrist Connell, said

“Twelve months ago we didn’t have the option of vaccination; it wasn’t a reasonably practicable step. Six months ago, we didn’t have the option of vaccination; it wasn’t a reasonably practicable step. Now it’s a reasonably practicable step and so it’s something that employers must consider as part of their occupational health and safety or work health and safety duties,”

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Save lives or save money – the OHS tension

There are two core elements to the work of the occupational health and safety (OHS) professional – the management of Safety and the management of Safety Liability. In the simplest of terms, the former saves lives and the latter saves money. OHS (and politics) has always involved juggling these two extremes.

There are many examples of this tension but the most obvious, at the moment, is COVID-19 and the vaccination of workers.

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Can Australian employers make you get a COVID-19 vaccine? Mostly not — but here’s when they can

[Editor: this article has been reproduced from The Conversation’s website under the Creative Commons licence.]

Joo-Cheong Tham, The University of Melbourne

Australia’s official policy on vaccines is that they be voluntary and free. But the federal government hasn’t shut the door completely on employers pursuing mandatory policies of their own.

Last week the federal government reiterated it won’t use its powers to give employers a free hand to mandate vaccines. Yet Prime Minister Scott Morrison also said:

Decisions to require COVID-19 vaccinations for employees will be a matter for individual business, taking into account their particular circumstances and their obligations under safety, anti-discrimination and privacy laws.

So far just two Australian companies — regional air carrier Alliance Airlines and canning company SPC — have declared they will make a COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for their workers.

The reason so few have declared such intentions is because the law isn’t on the employer’s side. There are only limited circumstances where workplace vaccine mandates are likely to be found lawful.

Continue reading “Can Australian employers make you get a COVID-19 vaccine? Mostly not — but here’s when they can”

Business is getting some clarity on COVID-19 vaccines and a reminder to act

On August 12 2021, the Chair of Safe Work Australia, Diane Smith-Gander entered the fray over making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory in an article in The Age. Later that day, in the absence of any clear guidance on the issue from the Federal Government, The Age reported that the Fair Work Ombudsman will be providing guidance on 4 tiers of workplaces relevant to assessing COVID-19 exposure risks.

The combinations of advice from these sources, greatly clarify what businesses can do to improve the safety of their workers and customers. The reticence to take reasonable occupational health and safety (OHS) steps by business groups will remain but the clarity they have been requesting will soon be available.

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To boldly go where no Australian company has gone before

The response to SPC’s decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for its workers, contractors and visitors illustrates a common misunderstanding of occupational health and safety (OHS) management, poor OHS literacy and some industrial and media rent-seeking.

On ABC Radio’s PM program in early August 2021, the main objection of Andrew Dettmer of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union was insufficient consultation prior to SPC’s decision. (Really?! What about the validity of the company’s OHS decision?) Dettmer said:

Continue reading “To boldly go where no Australian company has gone before”

SPC shows leadership on mandatory vaccinations

The first week of August 2021 has been a big week for the discussion of mandatory vaccinations for Australian workers. A major Australian fruit cannery in regional Victoria, SPC, has stated that all of its workers, visitors to the site and contractors will need to be fully vaccinated by November 2021. This is being done to protect workers, the community and to maintain the food supply.

There are many lessons from SPC’s decision and the subsequent discussion has been largely predictable. What has been missing from almost all of the discussion is the occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective. This article and others will look at the issue and how the health and safety benefits have been presented in the mainstream media.

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Why would you NOT make COVID vaccinations mandatory?

Now that Australia is vaccinating its people at a reasonable rate from a very slow start, the issue of mandatory vaccinations for workers has reappeared. Several months ago the issue was more hypothetical but evidence has appeared from England, the United States and Israel about vaccination rates and the resumption of business and work. Australian businesses need to reach a clear position on vaccinations and the return of employees to workplaces, and this will require an assessment of the ethics applied by employers.

The occupational health and safety (OHS) position is remarkably clear but is not really being heard or promoted.

Continue reading “Why would you NOT make COVID vaccinations mandatory?”