The Victorian construction industry hopes tens of thousands of workers will get vaccinated by Christmas or earlier to prevent site shutdowns amid state government lockdowns.
This comes as the NSW construction industry enters the second week of forced shutdown, while Victorian construction sites are currently permitted to operate during lockdown with capacity limits.
“We hope that COVID-19 vaccinations can be rolled out to building and construction workers to protect our industry from future Victorian lockdowns,” Master Builders Victoria (MBV) CEO Rebecca Casson said in an email to The Epoch Times.
“Getting as many Victorians informed about the vaccines as quickly as possible so that there is no longer any reason for lockdowns, border closures, or other restrictions is vitally important for our sector and our community.”
Onsite in-reach vaccination programs for construction workers have been put forward to the federal government since March. However, vaccine supply and uncertainty around a start date for the rollout have prevented the programs from starting.
Incolink—an industry fund that administers redundancy funds and other benefits to Victorian construction workers—has the capability to deliver 40,000 vaccinations on-site, “all they need is a green light from the Federal Government and a start date,” Casson said.
“Building and construction workers often work a six-day week and would prefer to be vaccinated at work,” Casson added.
This was echoed by the Victorian branch of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), who told The Epoch Times that having an onsite vaccination site supported their ethos of putting “the safety of our members first.”
According to Casson, the industry’s plan of onsite vaccinations would cost $3 million and would be modelled on the industry’s COVID-19 testing operation, where an Incolink bus facilitated almost 25,000 on-site tests.
A spokesperson from the Department of Health told The Epoch Times that under “Operation COVID Shield,” additional channels are being considered to fast-track vaccinations, such as “establishing workplace vaccination programs.”
The Department of Health also confirmed its goal of getting Australians “who want to be vaccinated” to be vaccinated by the end of the year, adding that businesses and industry “have a huge role to play.”
An ‘Informed’ Decision
While the federal government is pushing ahead with its vaccine rollout, there are concerns about whether workers will be forced to get vaccinated as a condition of their employment.
For instance, a survey of close to 400 Queensland nurses found more than 80 percent of nurses said no to mandatory vaccination, while 75 percent objected to the vaccination being a condition of their employment “in the interest of patient safety,” reported The Australian.
Additionally, nurses were among the most well-informed in the community about the COVID-19 vaccine, Nurses’ Professional Association of Queensland (NPAQ) president Marg Gilbert said, adding that vaccinations were still “experimental therapy at this point.”
“When you go for a vaccination, you give informed consent, so there are issues around giving informed consent when you’re not fully informed.”
However, among 1000 Australians surveyed by strategic insights consultancy “Nature,” half said they thought employers should be allowed to insist their employees are fully vaccinated, reported News Corp.
Rocco Loiacono, a senior lecturer at Curtin University Law School in Perth, Australia, believes mandatory vaccine policies are not lawful “since they cannot override the principle of informed consent,” he told The Epoch Times.
Loiacono cited the Australian Immunisation Handbook, which states that “[Vaccines] must be given voluntarily in the absence of undue pressure, coercion or manipulation.”
“All individuals have the right to be informed of the risks and benefits of medical treatment,” he said.
“The other issue here is that these vaccines have provisional approval.
“In other words, there is some evidence that it prevents COVID-19. However, it is not yet known whether it prevents transmission or asymptomatic disease.
He added that mandating a vaccine “for which there is no known longer terms efficacy and safety data from ongoing clinical trials, may imperil the lives of employees and put employers at risk of actions in negligence,” potentially pursuant to the “eggshell skull” rule.
The “eggshell skull” rule provides that even if a person is more susceptible to injury or is fragile, it is no defence to the seriousness of the injury caused to them, Loiacono said in an op-ed.
The current advice by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)—Australia’s peak body responsible for regulating therapeutic goods—is that vaccination against COVID-19 “is the single most effective way to reduce severe illness and death from infection.”
Additionally, on June 30, the Department of Health announced that residential aged care workers must have received at least the first dose by mid-September.
“The strong advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) to all aged care workers since January 2021 has been to get vaccinated.”
Currently, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommends the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine as the preferred vaccine for those aged 16 to under 60 years, and AstraZeneca to over 60s.
“There is an ever-present risk of COVID-19 in Australia while the population remains largely susceptible to infection,” ATAGI said.
Casson from Master Builders Victoria said it is “continuing to encourage workers in the building and construction industry to make an informed decision on the COVID-19 vaccine.”
“We have called on the State and Federal Governments to maintain a sense of urgency and proactively educate and inform Victorians about the vaccine.”