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Vaccine rollout ‘one of biggest workplace relations issues’ of year

In a webinar to VCCI members last month, Leigh Hubbard, a senior vaccine engagement officer with the Victorian Department of Health, said “part of the reason” there had been no federal or state directives to compel any worker to receive a COVID-19 jab was because there was no peer-reviewed evidence to show vaccination stopped transmission.

However, “if that [evidence] emerged, the position might change in hyper-sensitive areas”, he said, citing ports of entry, hotel quarantine and aged care.

Mr Hubbard said the focus of the team’s engagement was on the “20-30 per cent” who were hesitant about the vaccine but could be convinced.

“I’m not sure compulsion is necessarily going to do that, but it’s open,” he said.

“I know in the hotel quarantine area, there’s probably talk about [for] new starters it being a requirement … whether it’s a reasonable direction is something I think the jury’s out on.”

The Andrews government declined to answer questions about the issue or make any minister or health officer available for interview.

Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Hilakari.

Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Hilakari.Credit:Simon Schluter

Victoria’s Trades Hall, consisting of 40 affiliated unions, agreed the rollout would cause tensions between employers, staff and co-workers who had differing opinions about being vaccinated.

“I reckon this is going to be tricky and Paul [Guerra] is bang-on about that,” secretary Luke Hilakari said.

“There will be some places where HR, union representatives and OH&S groups are going to have to play a bigger role. But the more we have an inclusive conversation, the better we’re going to be.

“There is work the government needs to get done, particularly the federal government, regarding education … The next focus should be targeting communities that could do with a greater understanding of what it means to get this vaccine and why it’s so important.”

Mr Hilakari said unions were not making a case for mandatory vaccinations in high-risk industries.

“There will be people who object – it’s their body and their choice – but I think the majority of people will want to be vaccinated,” he said.

“This is a really important moment for Australia and for Australian workers to get vaccinated will make such a big deal in protecting one another and our families.”

Mr Guerra said the vast majority of VCCI members did not support compulsory vaccinations.

The Safe Work Australia website is also vague about the ability for business owners to refuse entry for someone who had not been vaccinated.

“It is unlikely that WHS laws require you to ask customers and visitors for proof of vaccination,” it said. “However, you might still want to require this as a condition of entry to your premises. Before you take action to impose this kind of requirement, you should seek advice as there may be privacy and discrimination issues that apply.”

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