Supermarket giants Woolworths and Coles have announced that all its employees must be fully jabbed – or risk losing their jobs.
The mandate means any worker employed by Woolworths, not just customer-facing staff, must be jabbed to continue working. This encompasses its 170,000-strong workforce, who work across its 1,200 retail outlets, Big W, warehouse and distribution centres, and offices.
Coles, which has around 112,000 employees across Australia, will also need to be vaccinated or get jabbed to go to work.
Woolworths staff in NSW, Victoria, ACT, WA and NT will have to be fully vaccinated by 31 January 2022, while Woolies employees in other states will have until 31 March 2022.
Meanwhile, Coles workers in NSW and ACT will have to have at least their first jab by 5 November, and their second dose by 17 December.
Coles staff in Victoria, NT and WA workers also face the same expectation.
The supermarket giants are making this move in a bid to protect its supermarket staff as Australia’s two biggest states lift lockdown restrictions.
Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci said the mandate for “all of our team members in Australia” came after a “careful review” of medical advice.
“With each store welcoming an average 20,000 customers a week, a single team member can come into contact with quite literally thousands of people in the course of a normal working week,” he said.
“Importantly, we have been listening to our team members. With states and territories at different levels of vaccination uptake and availability, we will engage with them further on our roadmap and implement a sensible and pragmatic timeframe for the requirement to come into effect.”
A vaccinated supermarket worker will be less likely to catch the coronavirus, pass it on, or become seriously ill, said Woolworths’ group chief medical officer Rob McCartney.
“There is a clear and compelling case for a vaccination requirement to provide the safest possible work environment for all our team members,” McCartney said. “This is particularly important as restrictions ease and we see higher rates of transmission.”
Woolworths has said it will allow exemptions for individuals who have legitimate medical or religious grounds for not being vaccinated, and will release its final policy in November 2021.
However, if there is no "valid exemption", the worker will likely lose their job, a Woolworths spokesperson told Yahoo Finance.
"If a team member chooses not to be vaccinated without a valid exemption, we’ll review their ongoing employment and it will likely lead to termination.
"Everyone has a right to their personal choice, and we respect that, but we have an obligation to make the workplace as safe as possible and that's what this policy is all about."
Coles CEO Steven Cain said the supermarket was readying for COVID-19 case numbers to rise.
"We have encouraged and supported our team members to access vaccinations as soon as they became eligible, to reduce the risk of infection for themselves, their colleagues and their families."
Yahoo Finance has reached out to Coles for further comment.
The pandemic has seen shelves emptied and thousands of workers forced to isolate at home, causing distribution issues and supply shortages.
Coles, Aldi and Woolworths are all on a hiring blitz as they look to shore up their workforce.