As each day goes by, our team is receiving more and more phone calls and emails from anxious and confused members who just want to know what they need to do to protect themselves from the legal, financial and reputational risks associated with COVID-19 vaccination in their workplaces.
Our Support and vaccinations in the workplace webpage also has a range of information and guidance on issues such as face masks, QR codes and mental health and wellbeing.
According to the Roadmap to Deliver the National Plan, Victoria is set to start opening up in less than three weeks when we are predicted to hit the 70 per cent fully vaccinated threshold and yet, there is still no clear guidance from government the relevant parameters.
It’s not how business operates, they need to plan. There’s staffing, stock, human resources considerations, IT systems - all of that requires planning. This is particularly tough for smaller, mum and dad businesses, who don’t have HR or WR teams.
The Victorian Chamber will host a webinar to help our members with guidance and advice on these issues on Tuesday, 19 October and we encourage you to register.
While the Victorian Chamber welcomed the introduction of mandatory vaccination of authorised on-site workers via Public Health Orders from the Acting Chief Health Officer (announced on 1 October and released on 8 October), our members remain unclear about the systems, processes and legal requirements that they will have to traverse to when they open up in coming weeks.
The Victorian Chamber welcomed the Public Health Orders’ clarification that employers of authorised on-site workers are permitted to ask for, record and disclose the vaccination status of relevant employees and that a medical certificate is the only valid exemption. These were two issues of concern for employers that have now been addressed.
Ongoing issues include:
- Will workplace manslaughter apply to COVID-19 fatalities emanating from a workplace transmission?
- How will people with valid exemptions be permitted to the premises (I.e. rapid antigen test)?
- What is an acceptable form of verification of vaccination (I.e. Services Victoria app integrated vaccination certificate)?
- Are employers obligated to pay sick leave to employees who refuse to get vaccinated and can business compensation claims apply?
- What will be the isolation and close contact requirements for business post 70 and 80 per cent vaccination rates, particularly if the workforce is vaccinated?
- Will landlords and licensees be able to mandate vaccination status of their leases and licence holders (i.e. shopping centres, flexible working spaces)?
- What are the employer’s rights and obligations if their employees have to go on to other worksites where there may be unvaccinated people which is out of the employer’s control?
Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Executive Paul Guerra said a recurrent theme throughout our engagement with members has been the need for an aligned and agreed position between Federal and State Governments on a nationally-consistent approach to mandatory vaccinations in the workplace, vaccination passports and greater freedoms for vaccinated Australians in consultation with employers and employee groups.
“Our members are desperately looking to Federal and State Governments to provide them with clarity on a raft of issues to protect them from legal, financial and reputational damage. It shouldn’t be left to individual businesses to make the decisions and judgements in this space, especially after the 20 months they’ve just endured. Business continues to stand prepared to play their part, but they need clear leadership and guidance to navigate the muddy COVID-19 waters.”
On 1 October, Premier Andrews announced that all Authorised Workers will be required to have received a first dose of a covid-19 vaccine by 15 October 2021 and a second dose by 26 November 2021, in order to continue work on site.
The Premier stated: “On the advice of our public health team, all workers – in Melbourne and regional Victoria – on the Authorised Worker list will require their first COVID-19 vaccine dose by Friday, 15 October in order to continue working onsite. They will need to be fully vaccinated by 26 November.”
A recent Victorian Chamber survey of 1300 members revealed that 84 per cent wanted the State Government to make Public Health Orders requiring vaccination to alleviate the pressure on individual businesses to determine vaccine requirements.
The Victorian Chamber stands ready to assist businesses through this process and provide guidance to the State Government on how arising issues or concerns can be managed.
Please note: The 15 October deadline will not apply to workers who already have existing requirements under CHO directions – groups like construction, freight, healthcare, aged care and education will still have to comply with previous advice. To view a copy of the full Authorised Worker list, please visit the Victorian Government’s Coronavirus website.