Canned food producer SPC has become the first non-health-related business in Australia to ban people from its sites unless they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The company announced the ban on Thursday.
It is effective immediately, although staff – including casuals, permanents and contractors – have until the end of November to get their coronavirus shots
SPC said all of its workers must have at least their first dose of the vaccine scheduled by September 15, and must have had it administered by the end of October.
Visitors to SPC sites will also be required to be vaccinated.
However, the union representing SPC workers said it it was “unrealistic” to expect workers to be booked for their first dose in September given many are still not eligible for the jab.
“Taking away a worker’s meal ticket because they haven’t had the opportunity to be vaccinated fails to recognise some workers will have specific health advice not to be vaccinated,” Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union assistant state secretary Victoria Jason Hefford said.
The AMWU said it had not been properly consulted about the plan, despite a legal requirement to do so.
SPC chief executive Robert Giles said workers were being consulted on a “case by case basis” if they were unable to access the vaccine.
Staff are being encouraged to talk to their GP or visit local sites such as the vaccine hub near SPC’s Shepparton factory.
“We are looking at all options, including a pop-up clinic, to make it as easy as possible for our staff to get vaccinated by the deadline,” he said.
Mr Giles said the union’s claims about proper consultation were “baseless” as the company had alerted staff and the union on Wednesday “in line with our legal requirements”.
SPC chairman Hussein Rifai said the 100-year-old company made the decision to ensure the well being of workers and the community.
“Lockdowns are not a sustainable solution and the Australian economy needs to open up again,” he said.
“The Delta variant poses a significant threat to our people, our customers and the communities we serve.
“The only path forward for our country is through vaccination.”
All SPC workers will be offered paid time off to get their vaccinations.
They will also get special paid leave of up to two days if they have side effects from the vaccine.
Workers with pre-existing conditions who cannot have a shot will have their circumstances considered individually.
Mr Giles said SPC was setting an example for others.
“Australian companies must go further by rapidly vaccinating their staff,” he said.
“By taking proactive steps now, we are shoring up our company for the future.
“We firmly believe that it will be manufacturers and innovators like SPC who will help drive Australia’s post-COVID economic recovery.”
Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie said it was a good move.
“The last thing we need is for food suppliers, which are so crucial, to be shutting down,” she told Nine Network.
“I applaud them, [for] having the guts to come out and do that.”
SPC produces packaged and canned fruits under a host of brands, including Ardmona, Goulburn Valley, SPC, ProVital, Kuisine and PomLife.
It’s based in the Goulburn Valley region, in central Victoria.