Covid-19: Business captains push staff vaccines

Covid-19: Business captains push staff vaccines

People queue at the NSW Vaccination Centre in Homebush, Sydney. Picture: NCA NewsWire / James Gourley
People queue at the NSW Vaccination Centre in Homebush, Sydney. Picture: NCA NewsWire / James Gourley

Australia’s largest employers will consider offering workers flexible hours and access to paid or unpaid leave to help accelerate the vaccine rollout and avoid Covid-19 lockdowns that are threatening the nation’s economic recovery.

The push to get the country’s workforce vaccinated came after a roundtable meeting on Wednesday, attended by the Australian Industry Group, Business Council of Australia, COSBOA, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the ACTU.

The Ai Group, ACCI, COSBOA and BCA, through their members, will send a message to employees within days 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”.

“We therefore agree to encourage our members to help their workers feel confident and supported when it comes to Covid-19 vaccines,” the joint statement said.

“Recognising that every business is different and has different capability, we will encourage employers to have regular conversations with their workers, in line with government health advice, on options to best support them and make it as easy as possible for employees who choose to get the vaccine to get it when it is their turn, whether this is by providing access to paid or unpaid leave, flexible hours or otherwise.”

Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash, who organised the Wednesday roundtable, said “the only way out of snap lockdowns and job losses is getting vaccinated, not petty politics”.

“Rather than playing politics with vaccinations, the Morrison government is working positively and constructively with business groups and leaders to encourage every Australian who can, to get vaccinated,” Senator Cash said.

“This is because the business community knows that rather than scoring political points, their survival and the fate of millions of jobs depends on Australians getting vaccinated as soon as possible … I want to thank the business community for working so constructively, keeping Australians employed through this pandemic, and ensuring our economic recovery continues.”

The joint effort by business leaders and the federal government to boost workplace advocacy and support for the vaccine rollout came amid increasing partisanship around vaccines after state governments imposed fresh lockdowns in response to new Covid-19 outbreaks.

The Morrison government has come under pressure from federal Labor and state leaders over the speed of the vaccine rollout compared with other countries, which have benefited from centralised delivery systems and greater access to vaccine supply.

With countries beginning 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.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has set a benchmark of having about 80 per cent of adults vaccinated before reopening international borders.

Scott Morrison has flagged a gradual reopening from next year with planning for new travel bubbles under way.

The federal government is also working on launching international student programs and tackling specialist labour shortages.

Ms Berejiklian on Wednesday said while she was disappointed NSW had been forced into a “lockdown situation”, her government was “already thinking about how we can resume a normal life”.

“We’re already thinking about what life after this lockdown looks like. And we know that a key to our success into the future is getting jabs in arms as soon as possible but as safely as possible,” Ms Berejiklian said.

Ms Berejiklian said she had asked the Morrison government to “open up the opportunities for GPs to do more” in rolling out vaccines. “They want to do more. They want to have the information in a timely way. We encourage that,” she said.

“Because, moving forward, that is the way most people normally get vaccinated, through their GP or through their workplace, and Covid shouldn’t be any different into the future.”