Uncertainty is mounting around how businesses will mandate vaccinations for the Australian workforce, as the peak industry organisation calls for the government to step in to manage the issue
On Monday the Business Council of Australia said state governments and not employers should step in to mandate vaccinations for high-risk workers.
The call follows a raft of announcements last week by private companies which are gearing up to independently vaccinate employees, including Commonwealth Bank and Westpac.
Private school Wesley College in Melbourne said it would begin a voluntary on-site vaccination program for 700 staff after it was approached with free leftover COVID-19 vaccinations by a vaccination provider that administers the school’s annual flu shots.
Canned goods giant SPC also announced it would be mandating coronavirus vaccines for its employees.
However Qantas has called on the government to mandate COVID-19 jabs for aviation staff.
Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, told Guardian Australia that any moves to compel workers should be highly targeted and led by state governments.
State governments will be able to institute public health orders, Westacott argued, whereas employers will be saddled with the added burden of managing a mandate for workers.
“We think this should be highly targeted to high-risk areas where a failure to vaccinate certain categories of workers would dramatically compromise our quarantine and containment systems,” Westacott said.
“We cannot leave this to individual employers who need to have a laser focus on keeping their people in jobs rather than seeking legal advice.”
On Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the vaccination program in Australia was not mandatory and there was no plan to make it so.
Morrison also said that it was not the intention of his government “nor of the states and territories to create any special laws in these areas.”
However he acknowledged there had been “specific areas where public health orders have been put in place, and that has been done consistent with policy, I should say, a consistency of policy at both the commonwealth and state level.”
The government has already implemented rules around vaccination for quarantine and aged care workers.
Morrison also said the government was open to Australian employers to mandate vaccinations, and that “the rule of law does [allow] employers to give reasonable directions to their staff”.
Companies wary to weigh in on vaccination responsibility
In the US, Google and Facebook have both instituted a requirement that employees are fully vaccinated before they return to the office.
Lori Goler, vice president of People at Facebook said that while implementation of this policy will depend on local conditions and regulations, “we will have a process for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons and will be evaluating our approach in other regions as the situation evolves.”
A spokesperson for Facebook in Australia told Business Insider Australia that the company was currently assessing a vaccine requirement on a region-by-region basis and it did not have a public position about what this would look like in Australia.
“Currently Australia local state government advice is that if it is possible employees should work from home, so that is the guidance we are following in Australia,” the spokesperson said.
Google’s team in Australia did not respond to requests for comment.
A Lendlease spokesperson said the company was working with the government but would not say if it would institute a vaccination requirement for its employees, many of whom visit construction sites.
“We support the Australian Government position that a COVID-19 vaccination is encouraged,” the spokesperson said.
“And we are supporting our people to investigate their eligibility, consult with a GP and get a vaccination when they can.”
Lendlease also said it was “working with local government to set up vaccination hubs across our assets where possible.”
The spokesperson said a vaccine hub has been set up by the WA State Government in its Lakeside Joondalup shopping centre, where approximately 1,600 vaccines a day are being administered.