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COVID-19 Vaccination

Useful information for SDA members

Australian unions support the development and equitable rollout of safe and effective vaccines.

The Australian Government will be providing all Australians with access to COVID-19 vaccines. While the Government aims to have as many Australians as possible choose to be vaccinated, receiving a vaccination is voluntary.

The Attorney General has stated that ‘As a guiding principle, both the FWO and Safe Work Australia have stressed that the overwhelming majority of employers should assume they will not be able to require their employees to be vaccinated’. State Health agencies may make public health directions that require some groups of workers to be vaccinated, however there are currently no laws or public health orders in Australia that specifically enable employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. and future laws or orders are extremely unlikely in the industries our members work in.

The rollout of the vaccine aims to prioritise identified groups for vaccination, which at this stage includes critical and high-risk workers, such as those working in hotel quarantine and in the health and aged care sectors. This will be followed by members of the public identified as high risk such as older Australians and those with underlying medical conditions.

The SDA is advocating for front-line essential retail and warehouse workers, to have priority access to the vaccine once the above groups have accessed vaccination.

All workers have an interest in widespread vaccination. However, due to risks of exposure, transmission and serious disease along with issues relating to access and availability, prioritisation of particular groups is necessary. Priority groupings should be defined based on:

–          Risk of exposure

–          Risk of transmission (to worker & the community) and

–          Risk to health (vulnerable health/comorbidities)

Vaccine FAQs

No. An employer cannot force their employees to get a vaccination or undergo any medical procedure against their will.

Safe Work Australia advice suggests that employers can encourage their workers to get a COVID-19 vaccination, if they are able to.

It is the SDA’s position that employers should not direct workers to be vaccinated unless there is a specific public health direction in a state or territory that requires a worker to be vaccinated.

Currently, retail, fast food, warehousing, hair and beauty and pharmacy are not industries identified by health agencies that will require the vaccination.

SDA members should contact their local SDA branch if their employer consults with them in relation to this or directs them to be vaccinated.

Workers must take reasonable care of themselves and not do anything that would adversely affect the health and safety of others at work. They must also follow any reasonable health and safety instructions from their employer.

For the industries that SDA members work in, an instruction from their employer will not be a reasonable direction unless there is a specific health direction in a State or Territory that requires their workers to be vaccinated.

If the vaccination is mandated in SDA covered industries by a government health direction, employers may then request workers to be vaccinated.

However, the choice to be vaccinated will remain with the worker.

Some workers will not be able to be vaccinated for medical reasons. If an employer requests that workers be vaccinated, they should talk to their employer and where appropriate and they feel comfortable to, they could provide a medical certificate to demonstrate that they are unable to be vaccinated. Directing an employee to provide evidence of a medical reason for refusing a vaccination, however, is likely to raise privacy issues.

Pregnant workers may also have concerns about the vaccine during pregnancy and should consult with their doctor for advice about getting the vaccination.

If a worker cannot be vaccinated or chooses not to be vaccinated, and they work at a workplace that requires or requests they be vaccinated they should contact their local SDA Branch for advice and assistance.

Where vaccination is not mandatory workers should not be treated unfairly or discriminated against if they cannot or choose not to be vaccinated.

Where a worker must be vaccinated because this is mandated by a government health direction and they cannot be vaccinated, the employer should discuss other options with them such as paid leave or alternative duties.

Any COVID-19 vaccine can only be used in Australia if the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has approved it through its rigorous approvals process. The TGA is an independent authority.

However, if a member has concerns about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, they should talk to their treating medical practitioner.

Yes. The vaccines will help protect people who have been vaccinated by either preventing or reducing symptoms of COVID-19, however, at this stage it is too early to tell if the COVID-19 vaccines will stop a vaccinated person from being infected with the virus. This means that a vaccinated person may unknowingly carry and spread the virus to others around them, including workers and others in their workplace. For this reason, you must continue to apply all current control measures required in your workplace such as physical distancing, cleaning, and hygiene measures.

Employers are still required to make sure everyone in in the workplace keeps practising COVID safe measures even after the vaccine rollout begins.

It will depend on the policies that apply in that workplace. An employer would need to establish that a request for evidence that an employee is vaccinated is a lawful and reasonable request and is not in breach of privacy laws.

Members who have been treated unfairly or discriminated against because of their vaccination status or decision not to advise their employer or provide evidence of their vaccination status should contact their local SDA Branch for advice and assistance.

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