Managing risk

SPC: employees roll up to COVID-19 vaccination rollout

With the COVID-19 Delta outbreak being declared a national emergency by the NSW government and the call for a new mass vaccination strategy to help stop the spread of the virus in essential workplaces, there is a question we should be asking: What role can employers play? 

One organisation that’s taken the lead in this domain is SPC by mandating COVID-19 vaccination of its workers. As a major manufacturer of fruit and vegetables in Australia, the business has a large workforce, and in pandemic times is deemed an ‘essential business’ with ‘authorised workers’. If one employee was to test positive, an entire plant would need to be shut for deep cleaning and all workers that are close contacts would be required to do mandatory isolation of 14 days. But the ramifications could be far more serious. 

The SPC board and senior leaders recognise the significant threat the Delta variant poses to both the business and the broader Australian community and made the decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccination of its workers. 

The company has 700 staff across its factories and offices in NSW and Victoria and is the first Australian employer requesting all staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of November.  The company announced the new policy on 5 August – that all staff (including permanent, casual and contractors) are required to have scheduled an appointment for their first dose by 15 September, have their first dose administered by end of October and be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 one month later. 

How SPC stepped up

In all stages of this decision, SPC followed proper consultation processes. This commenced with promptly contacting the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) – within 15 minutes, once the board had approved the policy and immediately following up with formal written notification.

A letter from management with a Q&A sheet was emailed to all staff on the same day.  Management held information sessions with staff and established a COVID-19 information hub on the intranet with a dedicated rehabilitation and wellbeing officer managing queries from workers. In addition, the company meets weekly with shop stewards and union officials.

Prior to SPC taking the lead in this movement, only aged care workers have been required to be vaccinated.  The National Cabinet agreed on 28 June 2021 that all residential aged care workers would be required to have at least their first dose by 17 September – two days after SPC’s first dose timeline. 

Hussein Rifai, SPC Chairman, says the move is an attempt to ensure the health and wellbeing of all staff as well as the broader community. “Lockdowns are not a sustainable solution and the Australian economy needs to open up again,” he says.

“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.”

Other organisations are also supporting the COVID-19 vaccination movement in different ways. Logistics giant DHL has started to provide on-site vaccination of its Sydney workers and Qantas announced on 18 August they will mandate COVID-19 vaccinations of all staff.

While mandating is a means of getting an entire workforce to roll up their sleeves to keep the community safe and help the Australian economy get back on track, at the same time, there needs to be a work-around as some workers are unable to be vaccinated against COVID-19 due to underlying medical conditions. 

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On the right track

In the case of SPC, any staff with a medical condition who are unable to receive an approved COVID-19 vaccine will have their circumstance considered on a case-by-case basis. Workers are required to provide evidence such as a medical certificate setting out the basis of being ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccination and the company assures they will be treated with the utmost discretion and compassion.

To help staff with the logistics of being vaccinated against COVID-19, SPC has prepared letters of reference that can be taken to their GP. For any workers having trouble accessing an approved COVID-19 vaccine of their choice, the company is also prepared to support staff with flexibility. Additionally, dedicated vaccinations slots have been organised at a local clinic to provide on-site registration support, to staff with language barriers.


All staff will be aided and offered compensation with paid time off when required to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations. If any workers become unwell after being vaccinated, they will also receive special paid leave of up to two days without having to access personal leave. As a token of appreciation, the company will also reward staff with a $50 gift voucher when fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

At a press conference on 17 August, 2021, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian was asked if she supports a company like SPC making COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for its staff. “That’s a decision for that company… I applaud any company that’s providing incentives for its workers to get vaccinated,” she said.

For now, SPC is pressing on with its COVID-19 vaccination program. As Hussein Rifai says: “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.” 

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