Australian workers should be given special ‘vaccine leave’ to get the jab – and it should be paid for by the federal government.
That’s the stance from the Australian Council of Trade Unions, which says two paid leave days – to get the jab and recover from any side effects – would boost the country’s vaccination uptake.
It comes as federal health officials again urge calm and confidence in Australia’s vaccine portfolio, following a second death of a person who had recently received an AstraZeneca shot.
The ACTU has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison with its concerns about the lagging vaccination rates among workers in aged and disability care.
The federal government last week could only confirm that some 40,000 aged-care staff (out of a workforce estimated in 2016 as numbering 366,000) had received their first jabs.
The true number is much higher, with many staff likely to have been vaccinated at GPs or mass clinics, but the federal government doesn’t have access to data from state-run sites.
In any case, experts believe there may be tens of thousands of such workers – meant to be in the highest-priority Phase 1a of the rollout – still waiting for a jab.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said the government needed to do more to encourage and support aged and disability care workers to get a jab, including offering them paid leave and paid travel time to and from the clinics.
“Introduce special paid vaccination leave that would provide for up to two days leave to attend vaccination and recover from any side effects,” Ms McManus suggested, in her letter to Mr Morrison.
“The absence of paid leave is likely to impact the rate of vaccination uptake across these sectors.
“A provision for paid leave to attend and recover, as is available to other workers in priority sectors, would help ensure these essential workers become vaccinated.”
Currently, workers would be able to access normal sick leave or personal leave in order to get a vaccine, or recover from possible side effects.
But Ms McManus said the aged and disability care sectors, in particular, were “characterised by high levels of insecure and casual work”, meaning many employees may not have access to paid leave.
Some companies, in a bid to get their workforces vaccinated, are offering their own individual vaccination support schemes.
The ACTU says a special government scheme, applicable to all workplaces, would boost uptake in the critical aged and disability workforce.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation said it had been urging the federal government to institute such paid vaccination leave schemes for months.
The ACTU said its current request was specific to the care sectors, but didn’t rule out issuing further suggestions for other industries as the rollout continues.
The ACTU is also calling for the government to re-establish its earlier promise to vaccinate staff inside the centres they work in, or provide “paid travel time” for those who need to travel off-site to get their jabs.
Ms McManus said it was a fair request.
“Other than the approximate 10 per cent of aged-care workers who have received surplus doses, aged care and disability support workers have not been given the opportunity, as was promised, to be vaccinated in the workplace (via Commonwealth-run in-reach programs),” she wrote.
“Workplace vaccination must be available for workers across aged care and disability support, as was promised by the government ahead of the rollout commencing … To achieve the high rates of vaccination needed to ensure community protection, it is critical that workplace vaccination is readily available.”
The New Daily approached Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash for comment.
Ms McManus said the ACTU supported expert health advice, that making COVID vaccination mandatory for aged and disability care staff was not necessary.
Instead, she said the government should be making vaccines more available.
“There is no evidence that workers in this sector are unwilling to be vaccinated,” Ms McManus wrote.
“The experience of the Victorian public sector aged care highlights that where workers are supported with ready access to vaccinations and paid leave to receive their vaccination and recover from routine side effects, we can achieve very high rates of vaccination.”
Vaccination uptake and confidence has been a key concern among health authorities in recent months.
Australia notched up 5.48 million vaccinations on Thursday.