Paid vaccine leave would help vulnerable workers and cost less than future lockdowns, according to a new report

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  • Paid vaccination leave would protect vulnerable workers against COVID-19 without making them lose income, a think tank states in a new report.
  • “The leave entitlement would be a simple means of removing a key barrier to getting vaccinated,” The McKell Institute argues.
  • The federal government recently revealed $11 million in paid leave funding for aged care sector workers, for whom vaccination will be mandatory by mid-September.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Paid vaccination leave would protect vulnerable workers against COVID-19 while costing businesses and governments less than future lockdowns, an Australian think tank says, after the federal government revealed a $11 million payment scheme targeted exclusively at aged care workers.

In a new report, the McKell Institute argues a government-backed paid leave system would encourage casual workers to receive the jab, instead of delaying their immunisation over fears of lost income.

Extending leave privileges to full-time employees should also be encouraged, the think tank states, as workers may be hesitant to use banked-up annual leave for the sole purpose of immunisation.

States already offer payments for those required to isolate after receiving a COVID-19 test or exposure to a COVID-19 case, and the federal government now provides an emergency payment to those whose work is impacted by lockdowns spanning longer than one week.

But no widespread package exists for those seeking leave to be immunised.

Providing paid vaccination leave for casuals, and tweaking the National Employment Standards to allow full-time workers to use sick or carer’s leave for vaccination, would boost the nation’s lagging rollout, the report says.

“Foreign governments and business have recognised the need to offer paid vaccination leave,” the Institute says. “The leave entitlement would be a simple means of removing a key barrier to getting vaccinated– finding the time to do it.”

The report estimates that providing paid leave to every unvaccinated worker in Australia would cost governments up to $1.8 billion, although many workers would seek the jab outside of work hours anyway.

Even then, the cost of that measure is vastly outweighed by the projected economic impacts of continual industry shutdowns and the lingering closure of Australia’s international border.

The McKell Institute report arrives days after Health Minister Greg Hunt announced a further $11 million in Commonwealth funding will be provided to workers in the residential aged care field, for whom COVID-19 vaccination will be mandatory by mid-September.

That funding includes an $80-per-dose payment for staff who must go offsite for their vaccination, and one day’s paid leave, capped at $185, for those who experience minor side-effects after recieving their immunisation.

In addition, the federal government will provide aged care facilities with $500 for transportation and other expenses linked to vaccinating staff members.

“The McKell Institute believes that this is an overdue step, and now is the time to consider a broader paid vaccination leave scheme,” the report states.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has already backed a national paid leave system. Speaking in June, union secretary Sally McManus said casual workers may be dissuaded if they must choose between the jab and earning enough to cover the week’s expenses.

“People don’t have sick leave or enough hours at the moment, so taking time off unpaid is a big hit,” McManus told NCA NewsWire. “If you’ve got two jobs, it makes it harder because your other employer is expecting you to turn up.”

The idea of extended leave privileges already also has some private sector support, with a roundtable including the Australian Industry Group, Business Council of Australia, COSBOA, and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry last week agreeing to provide workers “paid or unpaid leave, flexible hours or otherwise.”

Beyond the purported benefits of a paid vaccine leave scheme for those workers, it is hoped that new incentives would accelerate Australia’s sluggish vaccine rollout.

As it stands, Australia is ranked dead last in terms of vaccine uptake among the 38 OECD nations. Just 7.2% of the population has been fully vaccinated, leaving the nation particularly susceptible to new outbreaks.