A very hot potato has been left firmly in the hands of individual companies.
They are in an awkward position. The advantage of having your workplaces vaccinated is obvious. But the legal position is unclear. In the absence of a public health order, they would rely on instructions for employees to be judged fair and reasonable. Inevitably, there would be legal challenges.
In advice released Thursday, the Fair Labor Ombudsman said: “In some cases, employers may require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Employers should be careful if they are considering making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory in their workplace and obtaining their own legal advice. “
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus doubts the legality, barring public health orders, of employers mandating vaccinations and says support and encouragement for employees is the best way to go.
Even apart from any legal challenge, some companies would face division among their workers and possible layoffs and voluntary dismissals. When Western Australia made vaccination mandatory for quarantined workers, surely a very reasonable requirement, it lost some of them.
Simon Longstaff, director of the Center for Ethics, makes the distinction between vaccination being mandatory or a condition for doing something.
Vaccination could be a condition for a person who works in a company, as well as donning safety gear for certain jobs, Longstaff says. “If they are not prepared to accept the condition, then they can choose not to work for an employer that imposes such a condition.”
But the “conditions” form a continuum. For example, having to be vaccinated to work in a hospital is very different from the jab required to maintain a job that involves minimal risk.
This brings us to the various ways of skinning the cat and the “passports” of vaccines. The government already has the beginnings of a vaccine passport scheme, although it will not use that name, because its “base” does not like the idea. He calls it certified.
The vaccine passport is the approach of the iron fist in the velvet glove to impose vaccines.
Once we reach 70% or 80%, and people are registered as vaccinated, the evidence of having received the puncture will be the gateway to freedom. Viewed another way, the lack of a passport would restrict what people could do.
A vaccination passport might be as necessary for international travel as a national passport. On a more mundane level, it might be necessary to eat at a restaurant such as people are currently being told to sign in. Similarly, it might be necessary to attend music or sporting events. Or to enter the House of Parliament.
Forcing people, directly or indirectly, to receive a COVID vaccine sometimes involves conflicting rights: their right to choose whether to accept a vaccine, my right to be safe in the workplace, and the community’s right to the protection of a very serious and life-threatening illness.
It is not as simple as “no jab no pay” for vaccinating children, which only negates government benefits. In the case of COVID-19, we are talking, in the extreme, about people’s access to jobs and livelihoods.
So where do we stay?
When people deal with vulnerable people, most obviously in caring for the elderly, the rights of the people served clearly come before the workers’ right to choose. The national cabinet was correct in supporting the vaccination mandate of the elderly care workforce.
Quarantine, disability and healthcare workers are, or should be, treated similarly by those who employ them.
There are many other “front line” workers, including those in supermarkets and hospitality. While this brings us back to the issue of compulsion, it could be addressed, especially in occupations where there is a high turnover, giving preference in hiring to the vaccinated. This would be tough, but less tough than laying off workers.
When everyone eligible has been offered the vaccine, we will have a better idea of the size of the minority of unvaccinated people we are dealing with.
During launch, it is important to minimize this group, to ensure that as many listless people as possible have been motivated and doubters persuaded.
The latest government survey on “vaccine sentiment”, released Thursday, had 79 percent of Australians intending to get vaccinated, or had already done so. According to Lt. Gen. John Frewen, deployment chief, of the rest, 14 percent were determined and only 7 percent said they would not get vaccinated.
Incentives can be helpful, although they shouldn’t be as expensive or extensive as Anthony Albanese’s $ 300 for everyone vaccinated. Much better advertising is also needed, including niche campaigns where vaccination is below average.
The Australian community has shown remarkable compliance during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite some doubts about AstraZeneca, we are lagging in our vaccination rate not primarily because of public resistance or reluctance, but because of launch failures. With improvements on that, and a combination of the positive and negative incentives of the vaccine passport, we can probably achieve a vaccination level high enough to keep the community safe without going further down the path of coercion.
Michelle Grattan is a professor at the University of Canberra. This article was first published on The Conversation.