Australia’s Largest Telco Considering Vaccine Mandates for 8,000 Frontline Staff

By Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
September 6, 2021 Updated: September 6, 2021

Another one of Australia’s largest businesses, telecommunications giant Telstra has begun considering a vaccine mandate for 8,300 of its frontline staff.

CEO Andy Penn on Monday proposed that the vaccination would be a condition of employment.

“More than most other companies our teams stretch across the far reaches of Australia—from our cities to remote outback towns,” Penn told staff in an email obtained by AAP.

“We are part of these communities, and we have an obligation to keep them safe and well—as to protect each other,” he added.

“And as we approach what is typically disaster season in Australia, we hope that having fully vaccinated teams will help us more easily move people across state borders to assist should there be a natural disaster,” he said.

Telstra is proposing to set a deadline of Oct. 15 for the first jab, and Nov. 15 for the second. The mandate will not extend to those who work from home, and only to those interacting with customers.

Penn said the company would consider exceptions on medical grounds, and if justified, would try to find a new role for them. Failing that, the employee may face medical retirement or resign.

Discussions will be held for a week with staff, unions, and customers.

Telstra is Australia’s largest telecommunications provider and has over 29,000 employees.

A representative from the Communications Electrical Plumbing Union said Telstra should be wary of dismissing workers with a genuine medical exemption.

“The law doesn’t provide for this, public health measures do not provide for this and we will be challenging this quite strongly,” she told AAP.

Telstra’s announcement comes after food manufacturer SPC and airline giant Qantas decided to make vaccine compulsory for staff.

However one of Australia’s largest food retailers Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci has downplayed a similar proposal for his company.

The federal and state governments (NSW and Victoria) are pinning their hopes on improving vaccination rates as a means to control the spread of COVID-19 and move the country away from relying on harsh restrictions, which have had a detrimental effect on businesses and the economy.

The National Cabinet—an intergovernmental body involving the prime minister and state and territory leaders—agreed on a four-stage vaccination roadmap in late July.

The country is currently in Phase A and is working towards vaccinating 70 percent of the population. This will trigger Phase B, which will see stay-at-home orders and restrictions largely removed around the country.

Once vaccination levels hit 80 percent, Phase C will be triggered, which will see the government open up international travel and “highly targeted” lockdowns in use only.

Public discontent at lockdowns has been brewing in recent months, with an increase in protest activity and petitions against government-mandated restrictions, vaccine mandates or passports.