Workers in high-risk industries may be forced to get COVID-19 vaccinations after the Fair Work Ombudsman updated its vaccine guidance on Thursday.
Under the new system, the law would consider it “more reasonable” for bosses to direct healthcare and aged care workers, border control staff and hotel quarantine staff to get vaccinated, as Greater Sydney battles the Delta outbreak.
The system would divide workers into four tiers of risk, with those workers considered tiers one and two for risk. Supermarket workers would be considered as carrying out tier-three risk work, and could also be required to get the jab.
However, the Ombudsman said employers will still need to show that their vaccination requirements are lawful and reasonable, and that each case will be assessed individually.
Additionally, even if a workplace is considered a tier one or tier two risk, if there has not been COVID-19 transmission for a long period of time, requests for staff to be vaccinated may be considered unreasonable.
Under the new guidance, bosses must also consider the availability of the vaccine, their work health and safety responsibilities, the individual employee’s responsibilities and whether employees have a valid reason to refuse vaccination.
Ultimately, however, employers may be allowed to take disciplinary action including termination of employment against workers refusing a vaccine.
Business groups have been lobbying for firmer rules around whether bosses can mandate vaccines. However, both the Government and Fair Work have remained firm in advice that employers must be able to legally defend their directions.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said employers and employees need “clear information and advice”.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus said the new tiering system is a reasonable approach.
“What the Fair Work Ombudsman said is that the only employers who can mandate vaccinations are those where there is a public health order,” she told ABC News Breakfast. That includes workers in healthcare and quarantine.
“There is no clear right for [employers] to be able to mandate vaccines. In a way, that’s the way it should be: it should be public health experts, not individual employers, not politicians deciding whether or not people should have the vaccine for work.
“In our view, that’s the way we should go about it.”
It comes after SPC announced it would require all staff entering its premises to be vaccinated against COVID-19.