With the rollout of the vaccine set to begin next month, Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA) chief executive Peter Strong is calling for the option for business owners to stand down staff without pay if they refuse to get vaccinated.
Strong says businesses, which are legally responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace to their employees, should have the option to stand down staff in scenarios where employees without the vaccine put their vaccinated colleagues at risk.
“We’re saying that if someone doesn’t have the vaccine then we’d be looking to stand them down without pay until they got the vaccine,” Strong tells SmartCompany.
“The biggest concern we’ve got is who is responsible in the legal sense if someone gets COVID-19 in a workplace,” he says.
Strong has been in discussions with the Fair Work Ombudsman, the Attorney General and Minister for Industrial Relations Christian Porter’s office and an immunologist to iron out the legal and health complexities involved in the rollout of the vaccine.
Chief medical officer Paul Kelly said in a press conference on Sunday that while the vaccine rollout is set to begin next month, Australians must continue to adhere to the other public health guidelines, from social distancing to personal hygiene.
“There will be a time sometime this year where we will have reached a certain amount of vaccination in the community where we might be able to adjust some of those settings,” Kelly said.
“But at least for the next few months, all of those things we’ve been saying … will have to continue,” he said.
Kelly says that while the vaccine rollout strategy is gradual, it will immediately begin to boost confidence and help the economy and the public health system.
“It will give the public health system more confidence, [it] will give our politicians — that need to make these decisions in the end — more confidence, about what a COVID-safe normal might look like in the second half of this year,” he said.
Peter Strong says its vital that public health messaging is clear and simple to understand for businesses and the public alike.
Since November, COSBOA has been working with the immunologist Professor Andrew Carr, who is directs the Immunology and HIV Unit at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney and is a professor of medicine at the University of New South Wales.
“What he’s doing is helping translate medical speech into street speech,” Strong says.
Carr has been advising COSBOA about the different vaccines, how they have been tested in clinical trials and how the regulatory approval process works.
“It’s really important that our members inform their members about what’s going on,” he says.