In the midst of rising tensions between unions and businesses over compulsory inoculations, the Australian Government statutory agency, Safe Work Australia Chair, Diane Smith-Gander has supported the demands of frontline employers that their workers should get vaccinated.
The union-business battle took a serious shape at food manufacturing giant SPC last week when the announcement of mandatory vaccinations for all workers was violently resisted by anti-vaxxers. Acute shortage in vaccine supply in regional areas is one of the biggest problems. Smith-Gander recommended that the government should issue public orders to end the clash between the SPC and manufacturing union, representatives of workers.
Steve Murphy, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union national secretary argued that the union is in full support of the vaccinations but vilified SPC’s lack of consultation or answers to 32 questions it had put before them. “This is a public health matter, not an industrial one – it should not be left to bosses,” Mr Murphy said in a statement.
The federal government has given the authority of mandating vaccines to the state public health and workplace safety regulators by ruling out vaccine mandate across the board. The national guidelines given by Safe Work Australia are followed by the independent workplace bodies. Smith-Gander said that businesses like supermarkets where social distancing is not possible had the legal standpoint to mandate vaccines.
Smith-Gander clarified that the industrial laws of Australia give freedom to firms to take rational and practical steps for staff’s health and safety but this does not imply that they have the power to mandate vaccines. She added that they are being constantly asked to navigate the risk pathway for businesses is very difficult. She highlighted, “You would think, for example, if you were in an environment where you were in hospitality and you have people coming in and out, you have no ability or understanding where they’re coming from, whether or not they’re vaccinated, that there would be a reasonable basis for requiring your workers to be vaccinated.”
Safe Work has concluded that the firm’s criteria of requiring all workers to be vaccinated is not a reasonable demand but also assured that it is working with agencies to make sure that its advice is consistent and would update it if the times call for it.
Tim Piper, Australian Industry Group state director revealed that several businesses wanted rapid testing and mandatory vaccinations but were not coming up in the open because of fear of backlash and obloquy. Many people are also hailing the idea of ‘no jab- no job’.
Many labour leaders have reprimanded anti-vaccine fringe elements and endorsed the idea of vaccine passports after everyone who wanted to get vaccinated is vaccinated.
Craig Laundy, former federal Liberal workplace relations minister, asked the government to change discriminations laws so that firms are not sued for requiring vaccine passports.
Andrew Stewart, Adelaide University employment law expert, took a stand against Prime Minister Scott Morrison for missing the whole point of the tussle and said that businesses want guidance on what they can do and what they cannot do. While Stephen Duckett, the Grattan Institute health director said discussions about mandatory vaccinations were simply “political deflection.”