Ai Group’s Innes Willox pushes for employee Covid vaccine data

Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox.
Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox.

Employers would be able to collect data to track whether staff have been vaccinated under proposed changes to national privacy laws being pushed by one of the nation’s major industry bodies.

Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox says the change would help governments and businesses to better manage Covid-19 outbreaks by more easily identifying which workers are most at risk.

The proposal is part of a new drive by business groups and unions to help speed up the vaccine rollout through a range of new measures, including the possible use of worksites as centres for ­employers to administer jabs.

However, business groups are pushing for the same indemnity provisions as GPs to ensure that they are not liable for any adverse vaccine side-effects.

“There would … be benefit in giving employers a legal right to collect information about the vaccination status of their employees to help manage Covid outbreaks and identify those who may be more at risk in, for ­example, public-facing roles,” Mr Willox told The Australian on Thursday.

“This is currently a problem given the Privacy Guidelines issued by the Australian Information Commissioner.”

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Under the Privacy Act 1998, businesses are only able to collect information about employees’ vaccination status in very limited circumstances, and workers are not legally obliged to say whether they have received a jab or not.

State and territory governments, however, can mandate vaccinations for dedicated industries or occupations such as frontline workers or those employed in aged-care facilities, as is currently the case.

However, The Australian understands there is little appetite from the Morrison government to change the Privacy Act, erode Australians’ personal information protections or encourage vaccine-based discrimination.

On Thursday, The Australian revealed the Ai Group, ACCI, COSBOA and BCA, through their members, would send a message to employees saying they recognised that “workplaces are an important setting for ­reinforcing public health information on vaccines and that it is in Australia’s best interest to have a smooth and expeditious vaccine rollout”.

Mr Willox said business was keen to “support and promote the national vaccination program” but many were “worried about potential liabilities should there be adverse reactions (in employees) to the vaccine”.

The joint effort by business leaders and the federal government to boost workplace advocacy for the vaccine rollout follows increasing partisanship over virus management after 11 million Australians were plunged into lockdown in response to fresh outbreaks.

The Morrison government is under increasing pressure over the speed of the vaccine rollout compared with other countries, which have benefited from centralised delivery systems and greater access to vaccine supply.

As countries begin to reopen international travel, business leaders have become increasingly concerned Australia will be left behind as key sectors compete in a more competitive global market to attract skilled workers, tourists and university students.

“Large employers, in particular, are standing by to effectively turn their workplaces into vaccine hubs but many tell me that they are worried about potential liabilities if there are adverse ­reactions and even potential liabilities if they strongly encourage their workers to get vaccinated,” Mr Willox said.

He called on the government to “plan ahead and do it now”, and not wait until a decision is made to allow workplace vaccinations.