National cabinet agrees mandatory COVID-19 vaccine for agedcare workers

It's the first Federal direction on the issue

National cabinet agrees mandatory COVID-19 vaccine for agedcare workers

Australia’s national cabinet has agreed to make the COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for all agedcare workers after several states were slammed back into lockdown by the Delta variant.

All residential agedcare employees will be required to be vaccinated by mid-September to continue in their role, Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed on Monday night. All workers involved with hotel quarantine facilities – including those transporting flight crew and passengers – will also be required to have the jab.

It comes after the highly contagious Delta variant infiltrated Sydney’s eastern suburbs after a limousine driver transporting international flight crew became infected. In a matter of weeks, the community transmission had ballooned to over 120 cases, spreading across the rest of Sydney and sparking two-week stay-at-home orders. Lockdowns are also in place in parts of Queensland, Western Australia, and the NT.

As a result, the government has come under fire over the botched vaccine rollout program. Morrison announced the new mandate after Monday night's cabinet meeting, as well as $11million in funding to enable staff time off to get the vaccine without losing out financially. Casual staff going off-site for the jab will receive $80 per dose, as well as paid leave entitlements for those who become unwell in the days afterwards. Employers will also receive funding for expenses such as transport services to and from vaccination facilities.

The move has been welcomed by the industry’s peak body, Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA) but CEO Patricia Sparrow said the Government must make it easier for workers to access the jab.

“The reason there is low rates of vaccination has little to do with our workers,” she said. “The best way to improve vaccination rates is to make it as easy as possible for aged care workers, including through on-site workplace vaccination.

“Our workers were given priority as 1A and 1B at the beginning of the year, yet they are still waiting to be vaccinated. It’s not their fault.

“We simply have not seen the level of urgency, planning or clear communication needed from the federal government and this must be corrected urgently.”

Currently, public health orders are only in place in two states – Queensland and Western Australia. In WA, all workers involved in hotel quarantine are required to be vaccinated. In Queensland, the order applies to all healthcare and ambulance staff, as well as hospital and health contractors.

But a direction at the Federal Government level makes implementing a mandatory vaccination policy far more clear cut for employers. With considerable grey area around an employer’s right to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine, HR leaders in high-risk sectors have been watching Fair Work rulings closely.

Zana Bytheway, Executive Director of JobWatch employment law community legal centre, said for certain settings like the agedcare industry, requiring staff to be vaccinated can be considered a lawful and reasonable direction.

“Under occupational health and safety law, an employer is required to do whatever is reasonable and practicable to ensure workplace health and safety,” she told HRD. “Given the ongoing global pandemic and the recent rise of the more transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19, this can reasonably include requiring employees to be vaccinated to protect others in the workplace.

“However, for it to be considered a reasonable direction, any out-of-pocket expenses or loss of income from complying with these directions should be covered by the employer. The $11m announced to support paid vaccination leave for aged care workers is a good start, but will need to be monitored over time to see if more financial support is needed for workers who need to take time off to manage side effects.”

Bytheway also cautioned employers to consider how to best manage exemptions for those who cannot get vaccinated, whether for medical, religious or disability reasons.

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