The roll-out of COVID-19 vaccinations by the Federal, State and Territory Governments is continuing, as is debate about various workplace relations and work health and safety (WHS) issues.
Some recent developments include:
- An increasing number of State public health orders have been issued mandating vaccinations for certain types of workers.
- An increasing number of major businesses have announced decisions to mandate vaccinations for at least some of their employees, including SPC, Qantas, Telstra, Downer, Healthscope and Queensland Police.
- The implementation by a number of major businesses of mandatory vaccination requirements for their contractors has led to many other businesses considering whether or not they should implement mandatory vaccination policies.
- Many businesses are considering whether to make vaccinations mandatory for all new employees as a condition of employment (except where a prospective employee has a genuine medical reason not to be vaccinated).
- Various surveys show that:
- Support for mandatory vaccinations in workplaces is typically around 75%; and
- There are significant differences in vaccine hesitancy rates between different industries, with vaccine hesitancy the most prevalent in the construction and transport industries.
- The Fair Work Ombudsman has issued updated advice on workplace rights and obligations relating to COVID-19 vaccinations, including the circumstances in which it may be “lawful and reasonable” for an employer to direct an employee to have a vaccination.
- Safe Work Australia has published guidance for employers and employees on various WHS issues relating to COVID-19 vaccinations. The advice is currently in the process of being updated.
- The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has issued advice to employers about privacy obligations relating to COVID-19 vaccinations.
- Rapid antigen testing has been introduced by some employers (e.g. on construction sites) and this is proving to be an effective way of managing risks of COVID-19 infections. Many specific tests have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for use in workplaces provided there is supervision of the testing by a health professional. Unions have been generally supporting of rapid antigen testing.
- Unions are focusing on the importance of ventilation and air quality in offices, lunchrooms etc. and this issue is set to become more prominent, particularly once the lockdowns in New South Wales and Victoria come to an end.
- The Therapeutic Goods Administration recently amended its guidance about the promotion of COVID-19 vaccinations to allow businesses to offer rewards to fully vaccinated people, including employees.
- The Commonwealth Department of Health has produced a COVID-19 Vaccination Business Kit designed to assist businesses to promote COVID-19 vaccinations to their employees. Ai Group was involved in the Government’s consultation process during the development of the Kit and we have expressed strong support for this Government initiative.
- COVID-19 claims could put pressure on workers’ compensation systems (and premiums). Some States have passed laws that put the onus on an employer to prove a worker did not contract COVID-19 at work, if the worker contracts the virus. Up to 3 September 2021, there were 955 COVID-19 related workers’ compensation claims in New South Wales, including 146 for psychological injuries.