Minister for Industrial Relations, Michaelia Cash, today led a virtual roundtable discussion with around 50 leaders from unions, employer groups and government to discuss how best to support the vaccination rollout in workplaces.
Minister Cash brought together stakeholders to address concerns about how they can and should approach COVID-19 vaccination policies in the workplace and to support the vaccine rollout more broadly.
“It was a positive meeting and really pleasing to see employer groups and unions come together in the spirit of co-operation,” Minister Cash said. “It was clear from the discussion that participants are united in the goal to have as many Australians as possible vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Minister Cash praised the record number of people who are being vaccinated, noting that around 50 per cent of the country will have had at least one dose of the vaccine by the end of this week, demonstrating that the Australian Government’s approach of encouraging, rather than mandating, is working.
“I want to thank the millions of Australians who have already come forward to get vaccinated. This will help protect themselves, their family and their community.
Minister Cash reiterated the Australian Government’s position that vaccination is free and voluntary, unless a state or territory public health order is in place.
“The Australian Government’s position of voluntary vaccination does not detract from individual employers seeking their own advice and mandating for their workforce if they have assessed that it is the right decision for them.”
The Fair Work Ombudsman presented on recently released updated guidance on COVID-19 vaccinations and the workplace to assist employers and workers in determining their approach to vaccination.
At the roundtable, there was strong support for the positive role businesses and unions can play in supporting workers to get vaccinated. Participants agreed to work together to develop a work plan, in consultation with all relevant sectors. Providing easy access to vaccines was identified as a priority, through both increased points of contact in the rollout, and businesses making it as easy as possible for workers to get vaccinated. There was also a clear, strong call for consistency in state and territory approaches to public health orders and regulating work health and safety.
The Prime Minister announced after National Cabinet on 13 August 2021 that the Commonwealth, state and territory work, health and safety regulators would consider a Statement of Regulatory Intent. The Statement would make clear that businesses not subject to public health orders are not in breach of their work health and safety duties if they do not mandate vaccination. Businesses must still of course ensure they have a safe system of work in place in relation to COVID-19.
The Government encourages employers and employees to work together when it comes to COVID-19 vaccination. Cooperation is critical and all businesses are encouraged, no matter what vaccination policy they are considering, to consult closely with their workers about managing the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace.
Attendees at the roundtable included the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael Kidd; Fair Work Ombudsman Ms Sandra Parker; the Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner, Ms Angelene Falk; and CEO of Safe Work Australia, Michelle Baxter, who answered questions about rights and obligations under employment, privacy and work health and safety laws.