For 29-year-old business owner Stephen Tucker, whether he can return to work from today depends on which vaccine he chooses to receive.
Tucker lives in Liverpool, one of Sydney’s local government areas of concern, and operates a signage business called Tucker’s Installations.
Signage work falls under the construction industry, which means Tucker has been unable to work since July 19 due to the state government lockdown imposed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in New South Wales.
“Basically, you can go to work if you’re vaccinated but the only vaccine anyone can get at the moment is AstraZeneca,” Tucker tells SmartCompany.
The NSW government has imposed tighter restrictions on construction, trade and maintenance workers living in any of the nine LGAs of concern in Sydney’s west and south-west.
Because Tucker lives in Liverpool and his young apprentice lives in Campbelltown, his business has been unable to service jobs from clients they have held on pause for nearly a month.
However, under new rules, which came into effect today, construction workers in Sydney’s high-risk coronavirus areas will be allowed to leave their suburb for work if they meet new vaccine requirements.
Workers must either be fully vaccinated or have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Workers who have received one dose must wait a further three weeks to leave their suburb for work or return a negative test result from the last three days.
But Tucker has decided not to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine and instead wait for Pfizer to become available to his age group in about October.
He cited changing vaccine guidelines in Australia and different standards in Europe as the reasons for his decision.
“Personally, I’m not confident with the AstraZeneca vaccine, simply because the goal posts keep getting moved,” he says.
“I’m happy to be vaccinated but I would like to have the option of being able to use Pfizer.”
The federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine advice states Pfizer is preferred over AstraZeneca in people under 60 years of age.
But the guidelines go on to state that AstraZeneca can be used in adults under 60 years, if Pfizer is not available and if the person has made an informed decision.
Changes to government support
Tucker’s decision to wait to get vaccinated means he will still be unable to work. And despite being unable to work for almost one month, he says his business had not been eligible for the state government’s 2021 COVID Business Grant of up to $15,000.
“Apparently we were doing too well,” he says.
“The business is coming up to its second birthday in about a week so we had been much busier before the lockdown than we were in 2019.”
On Tuesday, the NSW government relaxed the eligibility criteria for business support because many businesses found themselves in a similar position to Tucker.
To be eligible for the relief payments, businesses can now meet the 30% decline in turnover test in three different ways.
When applying to Service NSW for support, businesses can compare a two-week period during the lockdown to the same period in either 2019, 2020, or the two-week period immediately before the Greater Sydney lockdown that commenced on June 26.
Ben Robertson, partner and national practice director of construction and infrastructure at Nexus Law Group, says restrictions on the construction industry have been hard on a lot of businesses.
“At the start of August, there were still problems for construction companies in Greater Sydney because a lot of the workforce comes from the locked down LGAs,” Robertson tells SmartCompany.
However, Robertson says allowing workers from the nine LGAs of concern to leave their suburbs for work if they are vaccinated will help in terms of labour supply.
“[The industry] does have other issues from COVID-19 but labour supply has been the main one,” he says.