The NSW government has confirmed businesses will be fined $5000 if they fail to stop unvaccinated customers from entering their venues when COVID-19 restrictions ease next week.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard outlined the new penalties in a statement on Sunday, stating that businesses will be responsible for “taking reasonable measures to stop unvaccinated people entering premises”.
Reasonable measures include having signs explaining entry requirements, Service NSW QR codes and staff checking vaccination status and only accepting valid forms of evidence.
Announcing the penalties, Hazzard said increasing vaccination rates will allow the government to continue easing restrictions as NSW opens up.
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“Despite the ongoing challenges that will continue to be posed by COVID-19, we have the opportunity to lead the world which is why it is vital everyone is vaccinated and follows the updated public health advice that will be in place from 11 October,” he said.
Businesses to be monitored
The NSW government announced the new fines one week ahead of tough COVID-19 restrictions easing next Monday, when 70% of the eligible population will be fully vaccinated.
Officers will monitor the businesses that reopen on October 11 and will focus on those with vaccination requirements, such as hospitality, retail, gyms, hairdressers and beauty salons.
Authorised officers can issue on-the-spot fines of $5000 to businesses that don’t comply with vaccination requirements. Higher fines may apply for businesses that seriously breach public health orders.
Individuals face on-the-spot fines of $1000 if they don’t comply with the vaccination requirements, including using fake evidence of vaccination.
Businesses brace for push back from customers
Despite restrictions easing next Monday, businesses in NSW remain concerned about how to enforce vaccination passports.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) has urged the government to clarify how businesses will be expected to police vaccination passports on behalf of its members.
Andrew McKellar, ACCI chief executive, said leaving commercial venues to check vaccination status without clear guidelines is placing the burden on small businesses.
“The lack of clarity is particularly stressful for small and medium businesses who don’t have the resources to navigate complex privacy and discrimination laws,” McKellar said.
Workers are equally concerned about how they will enforce vaccination requirements on the job.
Crime data analysed by the McKell Institute for the country’s peak retail and fast food union show harassment at retail and wholesale premises in NSW has increased by 22% since before the pandemic.
The Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA), which represents 200,000 workers, expects retail workers will experience a spike in incidents of harassment when vaccination requirements kick in for businesses.
According to the research, the LGAs of Campbelltown, Sydney and Blacktown have recorded a significantly higher increase in harassment offences in and around shops compared to the state’s average.
Campbelltown experienced the largest increase in offences, with the number of incidents of intimidation, stalking and harassment in shops rising by 78% when comparing 2018-19 to 2020-21.
The McKell Institute forecasts these incidents to continue to rise as restrictions ease and retail workers will be required to ensure only vaccinated patrons are present in their venues.
Bernie Smith, SDA NSW secretary, said the union is urging the government to improve protections for shop workers, including specific provisions in health orders and legislation for bigger penalties for abusing retail employees.
“It is not the responsibility of retail workers as restrictions are lifted to enforce shopper compliance with government regulations and requirements,” Smith said.
“As the economy opens up and we head toward the Christmas shopping crush we need to respect and protect these essential retail workers.”