Employers must play a key role in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Employment Hero Ben Thompson

Employment Hero founder and chief Ben Thompson. Source: supplied.

Australian employees and business leaders need to continue to work together to ensure the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is a success, if the nation is going to reduce its reliance on disruptive lockdowns and border closures and finally get back to business.

Australia’s geographical isolation has certainly been an asset when it comes to combating the spread of COVID-19. The trade-off is that the pandemic has hit some parts of our economy particularly hard. For the sake of both workers and businesses, we need to work towards safely opening up the country again as soon as possible. Lives and livelihoods are at stake.

The introduction of mandatory vaccinations in select workplaces like healthcare along with the requirement for vaccine passports (to grant vaccinated people special privileges) will give Australia’s vaccine rollout a much-needed shot in the arm. While I am personally against mandating vaccination for all Australians, if the need for a vaccine passport encourages more people to take the vaccine, it will help the business community get back to business sooner.

According to our research, Australian employers are among the most relaxed globally when it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations. An Employment Hero survey found 67% of Australian businesses are “unsure” or “against” mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for all staff, compared to a global average of 58%.

Meanwhile, our latest survey uncovered that an overwhelming majority of Australian workers support vaccine passports (71%), compared to 16% who do not.

Interestingly, among those who had received the vaccination, employers mostly had little to no influence on the decision made. Almost 40% of Australian workers stated their employers never discussed vaccinations with them and another 21% stated that their employer discussed it but wasn’t pushy.

Among those who had not received the vaccination, employees did not feel pressured by their employers to get vaccinated, with the majority stating that their employers never spoke to them about getting the vaccine. 

We can gather from this that many businesses are still sitting on the fence or weighing up their position when it comes to mandatory vaccinations and greater use of vaccine passports. Employers are terrified of doing the wrong thing — and rightfully so. A lot of times it’s very much a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation with employment. Employers want to protect their business and their community, but also don’t want to be liable if a vaccine-related injury were to occur at their command. 

This is where the business community needs more clarity on an ongoing basis around what employers legally can and cannot do in regards to staff vaccination and what protections are in place. Until they receive clearer guidelines on this to help inform and direct them, employers in non-essential industries will remain cautious to advise their staff on COVID-19 vaccination. I am pleased to see some progress has been made with the introduction of the vaccine indemnity scheme.

In the interim, the key here for employers is to combat vaccine hesitancy where they can.

Employers need to listen to their staff’s concerns and try to address them with factual information and resources from trusted sources. Misinformation and fear play a huge role in vaccine hesitancy, combined with mixed messages from some of our leaders. As such, a greater role falls on the business sector and employers to ease staff anxieties around the rollout and vaccine passports. Valid reasons for not getting the vaccine should of course be respected, but the fact that some Australians legitimately can’t get the vaccine makes it even more important that those who can get it, do so. 

Australian businesses just want to get back to work. Most people would like to get back to enjoying their lives and consider a vaccine passport a small price to pay to open up the economy and free movement. Getting on the front foot in combating vaccine hesitancy will help ensure Australia is once again a safe and prosperous nation for all.


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