Green light for mandatory jabs as Sydney tradies consider legal action

Australia’s workplace watchdog has given the green light to employers in certain high-risk industries to mandate Covid-19 vaccinations for staff.

It comes after tens of thousands of workers returned to building sites on Wednesday after a two-week ban on construction across Greater Sydney, where tradies from hot spots now need to have one Covid-19 jab before they get back on the tools.

The public health order has sparked a backlash among residents of western and southwestern Sydney who disagree with mandatory vaccinations.

The Fair Work Ombudsman on Thursday released new advice saying that employers can require their employees to get the vaccine if the direction is “lawful and reasonable”.

Hotel quarantine, border control, healthcare and aged care workers are “more likely” to be required to get the vaccine, while a mandate for employees are working from home is “unlikely” to be reasonable, under the ombudsman’s ‘Four Tier’ system.

Supermarket employees and other essential workers in Sydney’s hot spots could be required to get the vaccine under the new advice.

The guidelines are to be applied on a case-by-case basis, with employers to consider a range of factors including each worker’s individual circumstances and the risk of transmitting the virus within the workplace.

Employers are encouraged to get their own legal advice if they’re considering making coronavirus vaccinations mandatory in their workplace.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the FWO would review and update its information regularly as the pandemic evolved and the vaccine rollout continued.

“Our information is guided by applicable laws and judicial decisions, enforceable government directions (such as public health orders) and advice issued by relevant Commonwealth, state and territory agencies,” she said.

Green light for mandatory jabs as Sydney tradies consider legal action

Camera IconFair Work ombudsman Sandra Parker says the FWO will review and update its information regularly as the pandemic evolves and the vaccine rollout continues. Aaron Francis/The Australian Credit: News Corp Australia

The NSW government is this weekend offering the Pfizer vaccine to construction workers from the LGAs of concern who are aged between 16-39, and the AstraZeneca vaccine to those over 40.

But Liverpool solicitor Peter Maatouk says he is planning legal action against the NSW government after being “inundated” with calls from distressed tradies who have to choose between getting vaccinated and being out of work.

“As you can imagine, the southwest is where pretty much all the tradies are based now. They’re all suffering. People are calling me, begging me for help. They can’t afford to feed their children,” he said.

“The major issue I’m hearing has been, why is it mandatory? Why am I being forced to get vaccinated? If I don’t want to it should be my choice. I don’t want it, why should I have it?”

Green light for mandatory jabs as Sydney tradies consider legal action

Camera IconTradies from Sydney’s hot spots now need to have at least one Covid-19 jab before they get back on the tools. NCA NewsWire/Joel Carrett Credit: News Corp Australia

The Fair Work advice released on Thursday says employers and workers need to comply with any public health orders that apply to them.

A western Sydney aged care worker, who didn’t want to be identified because she said she feared repercussions from her employer, believes mandatory vaccines are an “absolute overreach”.

Her husband is yet to return to his construction job.

“He would do anything for his family but I don’t think it’s right he be pushed into doing this,” she said.

She said she feared small businesses in the industry becoming liable for any issues with employers whom they had to direct to get the jab.

“We have a lot of family and friends that work in the construction industry and a lot of those small businesses tend to employ people they know personally,” she said.

“The pressure on them and the responsibility to keep them employed under these conditions – it’s a stressful state of mind to be in.”

Green light for mandatory jabs as Sydney tradies consider legal action

Camera IconThe CFMEU’s Darren Greenfield says the union has argued that vaccines should be a choice. Credit: News Corp Australia, NewsLocal/Monique Harmer

Darren Greenfield, the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union’s NSW construction division secretary, said it had consistently argued that vaccines should be a matter of personal choice.

“If the government is serious about increasing vaccination rates, they need to make vaccines available to everyone who wants one and back it up with a clear and consistent public information campaign so workers can make an informed and confident choice,” he said.

“Workers continue to pay the price for the bungled vaccine rollout.”

Bankstown Labor MP Tania Mihailuk said communities across Greater Sydney deserved clear and consistent health orders.

“It’s absurd trying to operate a two or three tier system in the Sydney basin,” she said.

“We need to vaccinate our community irrespective of where they live or what they do for work. I know people are afraid and they deserve compassion not condemnation.”

Mulgoa Liberal MP Tanya Davies has drafted legislation to block mandatory jabs and remains vehemently opposed to the policy, causing a potential rift in the Berejiklian government as it struggles to contain the outbreak.

“The government can’t think in order to achieve its objective, the way to do that is the threat of people being unemployed,” she said.

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