Leaders from employer groups, unions and government officials met for a roundtable led by Minister for Industrial Relations Michaelia Cash on Wednesday to discuss issues surrounding the vaccination of Australian workers.
Minister Cash convened the discussion to address concerns about how business leaders should approach COVID-19 vaccination policies in the workplace and to support the vaccine rollout more broadly.
More than 50 stakeholder groups joined the discussion.
The government’s message was that from a federal standpoint, vaccination is free and voluntary unless a state or territory public health order is in place, but employers are free to institute their own policies.
“The Australian government’s position of voluntary vaccination does not detract from individual employers seeking their own advice and mandating for their workforce if they have assessed that it is the right decision for them,” Ms Cash said.
To encourage a wide take-up of the vaccine, however, she strongly encouraged employers to work closely with employees when it comes to vaccination policy.
Co-operation is critical, Ms Cash noted.
Participants of the roundtable included Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd, Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker, the Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk and CEO of Safe Work Australia Michelle Baxter.
Ms Baxter fielded questions regarding rights and obligations of employers under current employment, privacy and work health and safety laws.
The government is currently consulting with state and territory work, health and safety regulators to consider issuing a statement of regulatory intent to clarify that businesses not subject to public health orders are not in breach of any laws if they chose not to mandate vaccinations among staff, but that they must still ensure they are operating a COVID-safe workplace.
Attendees of the roundtable acknowledged that providing access to vaccines for workers was a priority across industries. They agreed to work together, in consultation with relevant sectors, on a plan to help businesses make it easy for employees to get vaccinated.
There was also strong support for consistency across state and territory approaches to public health orders and regulating work health and safety.
At the current rate of vaccination, around 50 per cent of the country will have had at least one dose of the vaccine by the end of this week.
Ms Cash praised the groups for coming together for what was seen to be a productive conversation.
“It was clear from the discussion that participants are united in the goal to have as many Australians as possible vaccinated against COVID-19,” Ms Cash said.
“It was a positive meeting and really pleasing to see employer groups and unions come together in the spirit of co-operation.”