Major players in Australia’s tourism and travel sector have backed the mandatory vaccination of staff members against COVID-19, as other industry leaders call for Canberra to further clarify their legal right to enforce jabs for employees.
On Friday, the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) released guidance for employers hoping to mandate vaccination among staff, stating businesses may do so if they believe the measures are “lawful and reasonable”.
The federal and state governments have steadfastly refused to enforce vaccinations for the public and sectors not already covered by existing public health orders, like hotel quarantine or residential aged care workers.
The onus will be on individual businesses to prove their in-house vaccine mandates are legally appropriate, and a growing number of employers are signalling they will take that opportunity.
However, billion-dollar companies have signaled their preference to encourage vaccine take-up without leaning on employee mandates.
Travel and tourism
Speaking to the Australian Financial Review, Flight Centre chief executive Graham Turner said he sees “nothing wrong” with enforcing staff vaccinations, should it become necessary for Australia’s emergence from lockdown restrictions and closed border protocols.
Some 90% of the company’s head office staff have already been fully vaccinated, AFR reports.
Elsewhere, Alliance Airlines, the operator of major fly-in, fly-out routes for key mining sites, has already pledged to enforce workforce vaccination.
While it has not announced the enforcement of staff vaccination, Qantas has expressed interest in the idea, and has rolled out its own incentivisation program.
Some tourism operators are also shifting towards mandatory vaccines for staff and guides.
SmartCompany reports Melbourne-founded company Intrepid Travel will require vaccination for all guides and travelers from September, though Australia, New Zealand, and the Cook Islands will be exempt pending vaccination accessibility.
Australia’s travel sector has been one of the hardest-hit through the pandemic, with the Tourism and Transport Forum estimating border closures and lockdown restrictions cost the tourism sector an estimated $25.3 billion in 2020 alone.
Hospitality and retail
The nation’s hospitality sector has expressed its support for mandatory vaccines though an industry survey, according to Wes Lambert, CEO of Restaurant & Catering Australia.
“They have spoken loudly with over 63% of businesses either wanting the federal government to mandate vaccinations, or for their businesses to be able to mandate vaccinations for their employees,” Lambert told the ABC on Wednesday.
“It’s certainly an issue on their hearts and minds at the moment because in many states they’re locked down, their businesses are in desperate situations.”
The same polling suggested 62% of hospitality businesses want those mandates extended to the general public.
Without explicitly calling for required staff vaccinations, Merivale hospitality tsar Justin Hemmes told the Daily Telegraph that a vaccine ‘passport’ system should be introduced, allowing jabbed staff to serve jabbed patrons.
To date, Australia’s major retailers have not publicly expressed the same enthusiasm for mandatory workforce jabs.
While supermarket workers in south-west Sydney have been added to vaccine priority lists and major chains are reportedly working on plans to offer vaccines to their own workforces, Coles chief operations officer Matt Swindells last month said mandates were not on the agenda.
“It comes down to an individual choice,” he told The Australian, saying the chain was more focused on offering staff workplace vaccinations before enacting workplace rules.
Other retail heavyweights point to the ambiguity of current FWO guidelines as a limiting factor.
Discussing the potential for employers to open themselves to legal jeopardy if they enact vaccine mandates, Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra last week told the ABC “I don’t think most businesses want to be facing litigation, potentially.”
Manufacturing and mining
With food manufacturer SPC’s vaccine mandate shaping up as a litmus test for Australian industry, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union has challenged the idea of all-staff measures established by employers.
Vaccine mandates should be enacted with “the advice of health professionals and a proper risk assessment – not just a poorly consulted plan by bosses,” union president Andrew Dettmer said.
While supporting the push for higher vaccination rates, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Business Council of Australia issued a statement arguing vaccines should remain voluntary for the vast majority of workers.
And “nationally consistent Public Health Orders” should be implemented to protect the firms which do choose to mandate vaccines, the organisations added.
“These are serious decisions that should not be left to individual employers and should only be made following public health advice based on risk and medical evidence,” the statement read.
In a dissenting statement, The Ai Group argued the FWO provided “welcome clarity”, and that overarching national legislation would only complicate the rollout.
Many employers already mandate flu vaccinations for staff without the protection of a Public Health Order, Ai Group CEO Innes Willox said Sunday.
“Thousands of employers are working constructively with their employees to get as many employees vaccinated as possible but there will be some situations where employers will need to direct their workers to be vaccinated without a Public Health Order just as currently applies with flu vaccinations.”
Like Coles, resource giants are also focused on vaccinating their own employees on-site without the need for mandates.
Speaking to The Australian Financial Review, Mineral Resources managing director Chris Ellison said his company’s preference was to secure vaccines and immunise staff without mandates.
Other mining luminaries have shared similar sentiments, fearing that mandates could spook hesitant workers during an extended period of labour shortages.
Thousands of construction workers and contractors across Sydney’s south-west are already subject to de facto vaccine mandates, with the state government only permitting workers from eight hotspot local government areas to visit the worksite once they’ve received at least one dose.
Despite those limitations, construction giants are yet to make vaccines mandatory for for workforces.
The Age reports Mirvac chief executive Sue Lloyd-Hurwitz said it was “unlikely” the company would introduce such a measure, pointing to on-site COVID-19 testing as a potential “path forward” for the industry.
As developers mull over their options, some opposition to vaccine mandates exists has already manifested in the workforce.
The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union has long argued that vaccination should be a choice, with NSW construction division secretary Darren Greenfield calling the Sydney measures the result of a “bungled vaccine rollout.”
Even stronger opposition exists in some corners: one Sydney lawyer has attempted to launch a class action suit against the state government for its construction industry measure, sending a message to employers who may choose to institute their own mandate.