Business ready for Covid vaccine rollout, but challenges ahead

Commonwealth Bank CEO Matt Comyn: ‘It’s all about when there is sufficient supply that we make it as easy as possible for both our employees and their families.’ Picture: NCA NewsWire/Joel Carrett
Commonwealth Bank CEO Matt Comyn: ‘It’s all about when there is sufficient supply that we make it as easy as possible for both our employees and their families.’ Picture: NCA NewsWire/Joel Carrett

Business will eventually face practical issues around how to approach some employees holding out over Covid vaccinations, but for now employers were focused on encouraging workers to have the jab, according to one of the nation’s leading bank executives.

Commonwealth Bank chief executive Matt Comyn said businesses – both large and small – stood ready to help to distribution of the vaccine.

For most this will be through existing flu vaccination programs already in place for employees.

His comments follow a roundtable discussion between Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and more than 30 business leaders and industry representative groups last week looking at ways to accelerate the Covid vaccine rollout.

Mr Comyn said it was important for business to step in to help staff get access to the vaccine when supply was available.

In the meantime, many businesses had programs in place to ensure staff could take time off to attend vaccination facilities.

READ MORE:MPs rally to reopen stagnant cruise industry|The new fault lines in the world economy|NSW is Covid’s new economic test case

“It’s all about when there is sufficient supply that we make it as easy as possible for both our employees and their families. And for the flu vaccine we pick up the cost of that and we’re very happy to do the same to support the faster rollout of the vaccine,” Mr Comyn told Sky New’s Business Weekend.

Mr Comyn said employers would continue to encourage workers to participate and get the vaccine.

However, he noted that problems might emerge as more workers were immunised.

Mr Comyn said in the past week he had spoken with some US CEOs who had been faced with about 20 per cent of workers who indicated they didn’t want to be vaccinated. This had created practical challenges over who should be allowed to return to the office and whether masks should be worn in the office.

“These are some of the issues employers and just in general the community will be grappling with later this year,” Mr Comyn said.

For Australian business it will continue “to be about encouraging people to participate and get the vaccine”.

Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage
Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage

Even so, business would also be focused on trying to protect employees and keeping customers safe, he told Sky News on Sunday.

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said employees would be working with the government on the best ways business could help to get people protected. She noted that Business Council members employed more than a million people.

“Throughout the pandemic, businesses have stepped up to deploy their considerable know-how, resources, expertise and people to safeguard the community and help speed up our recovery,” Ms Westacott said. “The vaccine rollout is no different.

“As national cabinet puts in place targets and timelines, we have to make sure we’re getting people protected quickly and that our system is ready to go into overdrive when new vaccine supply is available,” she said.

Meanwhile, Mr Comyn said Greater Sydney was clearly going through a “difficult phase” with the lockdown likely to extend beyond three weeks.

He noted banks had put in place a package of support measures – particularly focused on small business – to give them the confidence that the financial institution they banked with supported them.

Sydney’s growing coronavirus outbreak last week prompted banks to bring back a package of loan holidays across the country.

Repayment deferrals of up to three months for business loans will be offered to small business customers with less than $3m in loans and turnover of less than $5m. The package of measures will cover loans where repayments are up to date. Home loan support will also be available for individual and business customers, including deferrals on a month-by-month basis.

“There’s some industries that have been very hard hit,” Mr Comyn said. “The Sydney CBD is deserted at the moment so it’s very hard for small businesses there and their livelihoods have been challenged.”