On record – Statement on protecting staff from COVID-19

The article ‘Border Force should better protect staff from Covid: Community and Public Sector Union’ published in the Canberra Times on 8 July 2021 is inaccurate.

The Department of Home Affairs has consistently worked closely with the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) to resolve all matters and concerns raised since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The CPSU is aware of the arrangements for staff to receive vaccinations across the Department, including marine officers.

The Department does not support the provision of miscellaneous paid leave to marine staff to attend for vaccinations, as it would not be in line with community expectations or on par with arrangements for staff in other industries in Phase 1a. Time off in lieu, including reasonable travel time is provided to all staff in Phase 1a and 1b.

Communication with staff is timely and comprehensive, and provided to the CPSU to ensure they are informed on how the Department is managing staffing matters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department strongly encourages staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The vaccination remains voluntary and the Department provides support to all of our employees in phase 1a and 1b to obtain a vaccination during work time where it is possible to do so. Where an officer is unable to have the vaccination during work time, they are able to claim Time Off In Lieu (for the time taken to get the vaccination) plus reasonable travelling time.

The Department acknowledges that the statement provided to the Canberra Times included the line ‘there is no TGA-approved rapid test that is clinically appropriate for use in the marine operating environment’ in error. In fact: The Department of Health approved for the Department to use COVID-19 testing equipment for purposes in the maritime environment. The Department has a COVID-19 Testing Procedural Instruction that manages the risk of COVID-19 where testing may be clinically appropriate and urgently required for both clients and staff operating within maritime environments.

The ABF has appropriate COVID-19 testing capability available at sea for some of its vessels. The Department conducts assurance over the Marine Medical Health Services Provider, Aspen, to ensure testing procedures for COVID-19 on marine vessels are in accordance with the instruction. These have in fact been used to test staff whilst they are at sea (as opposed to when they are docked / on land). Some vessels cannot use Xpert devices because their size does not provide the level of stability required to fit such devices.

Vaccination rates

All staff who are eligible for vaccination under Phase 1a and 1b were personally advised of their eligibility and how to access the vaccinations in February 2021 and March 2021 respectively. This includes marine staff who are part of Phase 1a and their families.

As at 6 July 2021, excluding staff in the Marine Unit, 88% of staff whose role places them in phase 1a and who have consented to being vaccinated have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination.

In line with the NSW Health Order regarding Sydney International Airport, approximately 95% of ABF staff working in the Sydney Airport now have at least one dose of the vaccine, and the remaining staff have clear reasons for not being vaccinated.

As at 6 July 2021, approximately 48% of Marine Unit staff who have consented to being vaccinated have received at least one dose of the vaccination.

Leave and Vaccination Support

The Department provides support to all eligible staff to obtain a COVID-19 vaccination during work time.

For staff receiving the vaccination for reasons not related to their role in the Department or ABF, staff can access one hour of paid work time to attend a vaccination site to receive their vaccination. This is one hour for each vaccine dose.

Provision of reasonable domestic travel expenses is available where staff are required to travel to another location to have the COVID-19 vaccination where the vaccination is not available in their usual location.

At all times, officers with any issues or concerns have been encouraged to contact the Department’s COVID-19 taskforce and/or their manager to assist them to develop a solution.

Marine Officer Vaccinations

Several provisions are in place to support Marine Officers receiving the vaccination.

Where an officer is unable to have the vaccination during work time, they have been consistently advised that they are able to claim Time Off In Lieu (for the time taken to get the vaccination) plus reasonable travelling time or they can use an Administrative Support Day, which is provided for under the Department’s Workplace Determination (WD).

The Department recognises a small number of marine officers may be required to travel an extended period to access a vaccination clinic. This is generally related to the location of their primary residence. In those cases, careful consideration is given to individual circumstances to find alternative vaccination arrangements.

Marine officers have continued to be advised in multiple forums that if they wish to, but are not able to, secure a vaccination arrangement they should bring this to the attention of their Manager or the Marine Workforce Capability team, so that specific assistance can be provided.

To date, the Department has not received any requests to provide specific assistance with vaccination. The CPSU has been regularly informed of these opportunities for Marine officers to address any concerns.

Marine officers have direct access to the Department’s Clinical Advisory Team (medical professionals), officers from the Staff Health and Wellbeing Branch and the First Assistant Secretary of Health Services Division through regular teleconferences while they are onshore and at sea. This forum enables marine officers to ask questions or raise issues in order to gain advice and support in relation to the vaccination program and COVID-19 matters.

Sea going marine officers are rostered to sea in swing patterns. For example, Officers will be at sea for approximately 28 days and then return to their home for the following 28 days before they need to return to their next sea roster. This allows officers an opportunity to attend vaccination appointments on their rostered days off (i.e. the 28 days at home base). If officers do use this time to seek vaccination they are able to claim Time Off In Lieu (for the time taken to get the vaccination) plus reasonable travelling time or they can use an Administrative Support Day, which is provided for under the Department’s Workplace Determination (WD).

The Department provided input to the national vaccination program to ensure that all Marine officers would be included in phase 1a of the program and has proactively provided input into vaccination planning for business areas, including those relating to Marine officers.

Testing, self-isolation and quarantine policy

The Department continues to work on a case by case basis with staff that are required to complete self-isolation or quarantine due to State and Territory health orders, including implementing working from home arrangements when border restrictions have prevented officers from being able to deploy.

The Department has implemented a range of Procedures and Protocols to ensure staff have full visibility of the COVID-19 practices required of all employees which assist to safeguard our workplaces and the communities in which we work or transit.

State and Territory health authorities do not currently require staff returning from patrol to be tested for COVID-19.

The Department has proactively facilitated priority testing when necessary, for example this has occurred in Perth, Darwin and Sydney on numerous occasions.

The Department continues to undertake regular reviews and provision of appropriate PPE in the maritime environment consistent with Public Health advice.

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