Attorney-General Michaelia Cash has rejected a proposal by one of the nation’s major industry bodies to change federal privacy laws to enable employers to collect data to track whether staff have been vaccinated.
Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox has called for the change, declaring it 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.
Senator Cash said protections already existed for businesses through state and federal worker compensation schemes. “It is important that employers know that there are appropriate protections for them to encourage employees to get vaccinated,” she said.
Mr Willox has previously said businesses are eager to help in the vaccination drive but are concerned about potential liabilities if employees experience adverse side-effects after receiving a Covid-19 jab.
“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,” he said last week.
The Australian understands that in circumstances in which an employee has suffered an injury resulting from a Covid-19 vaccine after the employee was directed to get a jab by their employer they would likely already be covered by workers compensation. The same protections would also most likely be available for vaccine injuries sustained in circumstances where inoculation was not mandatory for employees.
Government sources said there was little appetite to change the Privacy Act, erode Australians’ personal information protections or encourage vaccine-based discrimination.
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.
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.
Senator Cash said the business community remained critical to the success of the rollout.
“Business owners, particularly small business operators, know more than anyone that our economic prosperity depends on avoiding lockdowns and keeping Australians safe. That can only happen if we are vaccinated,” she said.