Australia’s major airline and international carrier Qantas is making vaccines mandatory for all staff as part of its efforts to ensure workplace safety.
Frontline employees, including cabin crew, pilots, and airport workers, will all need to have received their two shots of a COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 15. The remainder of its staff will need to be vaccinated by the end of March next year.
Qantas noted that employees who decline the vaccine will need to provide a medical certificate explaining why they should be exempt, while noting that they will apply strict guidelines for approving any exemptions.
Airline CEO Alan Joyce said that having a fully vaccinated workforce will safeguard the airline’s staff against the virus, and protect its customers and the communities that the airline services.
“One crew member can fly into multiple cities and come into contact with thousands of people in a single day. Making sure they are vaccinated given the potential of this virus to spread is so important, and I think it’s the kind of safety leadership people would expect from us,” Joyce said.
“We provide an essential service, so this will help guard against the disruptions that can be caused by just one positive COVID-case shutting down a freight facility or airport terminal.”
Joyce explained that he believes vaccinations are the only way to end the cycle of lockdowns and border closures, which are needed for Qantas and Jetstar employees to return to work.
“Since vaccines became available, we’ve strongly encouraged all of our people to get the jab and are offering paid time off to get it done. We were really pleased to see from the survey that more than three-quarters of those who responded have already rolled up their sleeve at least once, and 60 percent have had both jabs.”
The airline said they came to the decision to make the vaccine a condition of employment after they surveyed 22,000 staff on the topic and received 12,000 responses. Of those, 89 percent had already been vaccinated or were planning to be.
The survey showed that three-quarters thought that it should be a requirement for all employees to be vaccinated and that they would be concerned if other employees had not received a jab.
Only 4 percent of respondents said they would not be getting the vaccine.
The decision to make the COVID-19 vaccine a condition of employment for Qantas comes as unions, businesses, and industry bodies have stated that they agree with the government that the COVID-19 vaccination should be voluntary.
In a rare joint statement, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and Business Council of Australia (BCA)—the peak bodies for unions and the business community respectively—said: “We believe that for the overwhelming majority of Australians, your work or workplace should not fundamentally alter the voluntary nature of vaccination.”
“Employers and unions recognise that for a small number of high-risk workplaces, there may be a need for all workers in a workplace to be vaccinated to protect community health and safety. These are serious decisions that should not be left to individual employers and should only be made following public health advice based on risk and medical evidence,” the statement read.
But the ACTU and the BCA did call on governments and the National Cabinet to ensure that where mandatory vaccination requirements are necessary, they are implemented through the use of nationally consistent Public Health Orders.
Further, after meeting with Attorney General Michaela Cash on Aug. 18, the Australian Industry (AI) group chief executive Innes Willox said that industry groups now view vaccine mandates as being the role of employers, not the government, reported news.com.au.
“The meeting was told that businesses seeking to mandate vaccinations should obtain legal advice to ensure any such decision was lawful and reasonable,” Willox said.
“It cemented the view for us that it would be employers who would need to decide if they were on secure legal ground to mandate in the absence of rare COVID vaccination health orders,” the chief executive said.
“Mandating of vaccinations will not be appropriate in all workplaces, but it will be for some. It will not be surprising if more businesses that are public facing or have workers in proximity announce decisions to mandate vaccinations over the months ahead.”