The vaccine domino effect: Woolworths mandates jabs and rivals follow

Asia's Tech News Daily

When Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci made the call on mandating vaccines for the entire workforce, he gave a heads-up to other major retailers including supermarket rival Coles and Bunnings/Kmart/Officeworks owner, Wesfarmers.

© supplied Photo of people attending the vaccination Hub in Dandenong on Sunday 3 October 2021

There is safety in numbers for Australia’s large companies – all of which have struggled with the potential public relations backlash and legal ramifications of introducing ‘no jab, no job’ mandates.

Coles and Australia’s third major supermarket chain, Aldi jumped at the opportunity to take the cover provided by Woolworths. Within minutes of Woolworths’ announcement the supermarket dominoes fell.

Last week Australia saw a movement by Australia’s two large banks, the Commonwealth Bank and Westpac move together and take the lead on mandating vaccines for front-line employees and office staff.

ANZ and National Australia Bank declined to follow suit. But that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually come to the same landing as CBA and Westpac, it’s just more likely that they want to increase the proportion of vaccination volunteers among their respective workforces.

Wesfarmers appears to be the last holdout among the retail giants. But in reality it is moving to the same place on vaccination – only it’s doing so by stealth. It is aiming to have a fully vaccinated workforce by the New Year and is making vaccination a condition of employment for new staff.

Whether Wesfarmers manages to reach its goal through sheer attrition, various state government mandates or extreme encouragement remains to be seen.

Over recent weeks state governments – Victoria and Western Australia in particular – have announced a range of different industries and worker categories that will need to be vaccinated. And this has done some of the heavy lifting for companies disinclined to mandate.

Video: Woolworth CEO had a ‘fairly blunt message’ for staff regarding vaccination (Sky News Australia)

The supermarket vaccine snowball is important because it represents a tipping point in mandatory vaccination – certainly among large employers. Those companies requiring all staff to have a jab are no longer the pandemic response trailblazers.

Conversely, companies responsible for the health and safety of tens of thousands of workers that are not requiring them to be inoculated are fast becoming the outliers.

Of the top ten ASX listed companies five have issued a fairly comprehensive mandate for staff vaccination. These include, the two banks mentioned above, BHP, CSL and Rio (which requires all employees in Western Australia to be inoculated.)

Among those in the next tier of major Australian employers, several have signed up to mandatory vaccinations – including but not limited to Woolworths, Coles, Telstra, Crown, Qantas and Virgin.

There will be myriad smaller companies that have not telegraphed mandatory vaccination positions. And there will be a natural bias among small companies, without the resources to fight potential legal challenges to mandatory vaccination, to avoid entering this fray.

In August, the small fruit canning operator SPC made headlines by becoming the first to introduce a policy on mandatory vaccination. Since then, companies across Australia have been busy consulting their staff and unions on vaccination and urging them to get the jab.

It was always unrealistic to expect staff to be inoculated before there was sufficient time and vaccine supply. Those conditions have now been satisfied. In most cases, the rush of companies to jump on the vaccination train has seen the introduction of staged requirements and sufficient notice.

It’s no coincidence that big companies are moving just as the COVID-19 afflicted states and territories of NSW and Victoria and the ACT start opening up their economies to vaccinated people.

Based on the NSW timetable, December will herald the opening of the economy to everyone and that means companies will be demanding their staff either work or interact with the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. In turn this plays into the requirements for companies to maintain a safe working environment for staff.

So, it is crunch time for business. They need to decide whether the risks of a potential legal backlash around mandating vaccinations outweigh the risk of their staff being endangered by exposure to the virus.

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