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Employers will be able to ask their staff if they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 so they can guard against infections in the workplace, under federal guidance finalised on Tuesday morning.
The federal government is telling companies they have the right to ask workers for their vaccination status despite growing debate about the privacy of the information.
The new guidance to business means employers will be able to act on the information if workers tell them they have not been vaccinated.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
But the approach does not mean vaccinations can be mandated across the community, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison warns against mandating by “stealth” through any change in the law to make the jabs compulsory.
The new guidance to business means employers will be able to act on the information if workers tell them they have not been vaccinated and therefore might pose a risk to customers and fellow staff.
One response would be to move workers away from duties where they are facing customers or interacting with others, reducing the risk that those who are not vaccinated could spread COVID-19 in the workplace.
Business leaders are frustrated, however, at Mr Morrison’s decision to avoid any changes to legislation or regulation to provider greater authority and clarity to employers who want to strongly encourage workers to get vaccinated, even if it is not compulsory.
“The vaccination program in Australia is free and it is not mandatory. That is a very important principle,” Mr Morrison said on Monday.
“We are not going to seek to impose a mandatory vaccination program by the government, by stealth. That is not what we’re going to do. There are already existing powers that employers have, both in terms of lawful directions, reasonable directions to their employers.”
“Equally, business owners have property rights in terms of who they can allow to come in and out of their premises. Those property rights, those authorities that they have for their employees, already exist.”
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said that guidance was not strong enough to give employers the authority to vaccinate their workforces under voluntary schemes.
“We again call on the federal government to extend the same indemnity to employers who vaccinate their willing workers at the workplace as is enjoyed by doctors, pharmacists and pharmaceutical companies,” Mr Willox said.
“A medical practitioner who comes to a workplace to give the vaccine would have an indemnity. The employer does not have that same indemnity but should be given it to cover any unexpected circumstances.”
“Indemnity has nothing to do with mandating vaccinations which is an entirely separate issue. It is about reducing the risk for employers who may still face an expensive workplace claim. Employers are very keen to help speed up the vaccination effort in the workplace and an extension of indemnity to them would make this more attractive for many more employers.”
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