COVID-19 vaccines at work: Small business groups call for checklist in roundtable discussion with government

vaccine checklist

Minister for Industrial Relations Michaelia Cash. Source: AAP Image/Lukas Coch. Source: AAP Image/Albert Perez.

Small business groups have called on the government to provide employers with a COVID-19 vaccination checklist in a roundtable discussion yesterday that 50 leaders from business groups, unions and government attended.

Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash led the meeting on Wednesday, which confirmed that the federal government’s position on voluntary vaccinations would not stop some workplaces from mandating vaccines within the current guidelines.

Alexi Boyd, chief executive of the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia, raised concerns on behalf of her members about the complexity of the current guidelines which span employment, workplace relations and privacy law.

“While we appreciated the information that came out from Fair Work Australia, it did indicate how complex an issue this is,” Boyd tells SmartCompany.

COSBOA proposed the government provide employers with a checklist they could use to help ensure they are meeting their obligations when adopting any approach to vaccines, including sharing information, offering incentives or leave, and issuing mandates.

“The checklist would help businesses make sure they’re doing the right thing by Fair Work and Safe Work, as well as ensure they’re meeting their obligations without being liable for any court action,” Boyd says.

During the roundtable discussion, Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash confirmed the government’s position that vaccination is free and voluntary, unless a state or territory public health order is in place.

“The Australian government’s position of voluntary vaccination does not detract from individual employers seeking their own advice and mandating for their workforce if they have assessed that it is the right decision for them,” Cash said in a statement.

Aside from the issue of mandatory vaccinations, the roundtable discussed how businesses and unions can play a positive role in supporting workers to get vaccinated.

Participants agreed businesses can help facilitate access to vaccines by making it easy for workers to attend vaccination appointments or using their premises as vaccination sites.

Business groups also called for consistency in state and territory approaches to public health orders and regulating work health and safety.

Innes Willox, chief executive of the national employer association Ai Group, said the meeting “cemented” the fact that employers are responsible for ensuring mandatory vaccination directives are legal in settings where no public health order applies.

“[The meeting] cemented the view for us that it would be employers who would need to decide if they were on secure legal ground to mandate in the absence of rare COVID vaccination health orders,” Willox said.

“This remains a complex issue for employers who have to balance public safety, workplace safety and reputational risks.”

On Wednesday, Australian airline Qantas announced it will make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all frontline staff by mid-November. The direction will apply to cabin crew, pilots and airport workers from November 15, before extending to the rest of the airline’s employees by March 2022. 

In Australia, about 27.5% of the population that is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine is now fully vaccinated and 49.5% have received the first dose.

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