Woolworths, Coles and Aldi will make COVID vaccination mandatory for about 303,000 supermarket, distribution centre and head office workers.
In separate announcements on Thursday, Australia’s largest grocery chains said new ‘no jab, no work’ rules would make supermarkets safer as NSW and Victoria exited lockdowns without achieving zero COVID cases.
But each supermarket also ruled out vaccine mandates for customers.
Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci said about 170,000 workers would be required to show proof of their vaccination status if they wanted to work.
“We have a clear obligation to provide our team members with the safest possible work environment as we supply the food and essential needs our communities rely on,” he said on Thursday morning.
“[With each of our stores] welcoming an average 20,000 customers a week, a single team member can come into contact with quite literally thousands of people in the course of a normal working week.”
Woolworths will require all staff outside of Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania to be vaccinated by January 31, 2022, and everyone else by March 31, 2022.
About a third of Woolworths workers already face vaccine requirements under state government health orders.
Coles will require all its 120,000 workers to be vaccinated by January 31, 2022, at the latest. But those in Victoria and NSW must be double-jabbed by November 26 and December 17 respectively.
Coles CEO Steven Cain said their priority was to provide safe stores.
“As people are able to circulate more freely in NSW, ACT and Victoria, health authorities have warned that COVID case numbers in these states are expected to increase, which also means a higher risk of positive cases visiting our stores,” Mr Cain said.
“We’ve been pleased with the uptake of the vaccine by our team members, and we owe it to them to ensure that as many of their colleagues as possible also do their bit by getting the jab.”
Aldi, which has about 13,500 staff in Australia, said it would finalise a timeline for mandatory vaccinations within the next few weeks after consulting with its workers and their unions.
“Our view is that requiring all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in the future is the best measure to ensure the health and safety of our teams and our customers,” Aldi CEO Tom Daunt said on Thursday.
Coles, Woolworths and Aldi join a bevvy of other major employers in mandating COVID-19 vaccines among workers, including Qantas, Virgin and cannery SPC.
Supermarket workers have proven particularly vulnerable to the virus during recent Delta outbreaks in NSW and Victoria, with Mr Banducci revealing in September that thousands of workers were isolating after being exposed at work.
Public health experts expect those numbers to rise as general community exposure to COVID-19 increases once NSW and Victoria open up completely and border restrictions are wound back.
Coles and Woolworths have set up their own vaccination clinics for workers in NSW and Victoria during the Delta outbreak and have been encouraging staff to get vaccinated for months.
All three supermarkets will allow staff to apply for exemptions to the vaccine rules, but did not detail this process on Thursday.
Woolworths said it would allow “legitimate medical and religious” exemptions, while Coles merely said staff must be vaccinated unless they have a “valid exemption”.
Woolworths said it will make a final decision on this policy in November.
Aldi said a small number of staff will have valid medical exemptions.
“In these rare instances we will rely on other arrangements to ensure their safety in the workplace,” Mr Daunt said.