Australia’s trade unions had a unified position on mandatory vaccines when the coronavirus pandemic started: they opposed employers creating their own “no jab, no job” rules but supported orders backed by health officials.
That line is now less clear. Unionists are talking at cross purposes after rolling protests by construction workers over the past few days exposed fault lines in the movement.
The Victorian construction, plumbing, manufacturing and electricians’ unions declared on Monday night the state government’s mandatory vaccination order for the building sector was “unworkable and heavy-handed”, even though it had been backed by the Chief Health Officer. Their counterparts in Queensland have expressed a similar view, as has the maritime union in Sydney.
Whatever the wisdom of imposing Friday’s mandate on what turned out to be a volatile situation, the unions’ statement had no explicit words of encouragement for vaccinations, only “informed choice”.
At about the same time, Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus was vowing the unions would not be intimidated by extremist anti-vaxxers on the ABC’s 7.30 program.
“We will put safety first, we support people getting vaccinated,” she said.
The next day, the nurses’ union told protesters to stop “fighting for the right to overwhelm our health system” and the boss of the Victorian Trades Hall Council, Luke Hilakari, all but backed mandatory jabs.
“You can make your own choice about vaccination, but you don’t get to put your workplace and your workmates at risk,” he wrote in an opinion piece for The Age.