Our policy is that all SPC staff, including casuals and contractors, must have at least the first dose of the vaccine scheduled by September 15 2021, with the first dose administered by the end of October. Any visitors to an SPC site will also be required to be vaccinated.
The debate is not about our initial initiative (taken up by many others since then) but the way Australia and Australian businesses have responded, from incentivising their staff to mandate vaccination for citizens and employees to lead our country back to the path of prosperity.
Reason 1: Ensuring the health of workers and the broader community
Since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, SPC has implemented rigorous safety plans at all its sites. These plans have ensured our people’s health, safety and job security while ensuring business continuity for the essential service SPC provides to the broader community. It is the responsibility of the directors of every single business to provide a safe working environment.
But we realised it was our responsibility to go further to minimise risk and to protect the people we care about from the Delta variant. We will probably face more dangerous variants in the future, with vulnerable or immunocompromised staff in our workforce who will be at higher risk. We needed to act to protect them, and we did it. Mandating vaccination for all SPC staff ensures the health and wellbeing of every single employee and their immediate work environment – it’s the first and obvious reason. It’s the only way to ensure the safety of the broader community.
Reason 2: Reopening the Australian economy
Vaccine mandates are the only way to reopen the Australian economy. SPC’s senior leadership team and board have recognised the significant threat the Covid-19 Delta variant poses to both the business and the broader Australian community. And we all know that lockdowns are not a sustainable solution. The Australian economy needs to open up again.
We know that it is a race to reach vaccination threshold levels because lockdowns are only buying us time, not eliminating the virus. It is a race to save our staff, contractors, customers, community and Australia at large. It took time, but it seems that both the federal and state governments have adopted more realistic positions regarding lockdowns and vaccinations in order to reopen the economy.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed that “Australia should shift its focus away from lockdowns” and that “we have to deal with the virus, otherwise we stay in the cave forever”.
As we like to say, SPC is a science-based company and the vaccine has been validated by all of Australia’s leading research organisations, including the Doherty Institute. We need to take every opportunity to get out of our country’s predicament and reopen the economy.
Reason 3: Leading by example
Businesses have now more than ever both a corporate social responsibility and leadership role to play in our economy and society. By taking proactive steps now, we are shoring up SPC for the future. We firmly believe that it will be manufacturers and innovators, like SPC, who will help drive Australia’s post-Covid economic, social and environmental recovery by “doing the right thing” by mandating vaccination.
As highlighted by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in his talk with the Business Council, with more than eight out of 10 Australians employed in the private sector, business has an important and powerful voice.
We have received overwhelming support from our staff, local community, business partners and friends, stakeholders, advisors and the public.
SPC’s announcement was followed by a similar one from Qantas, who will require all employees to be fully vaccinated against Covid as part of the national carrier’s commitment to safety.
At SPC, we have taken a strong leadership position on the mandatory vaccination issue and we will continue to lead by example and play our part in the fight against Covid.
AGAINST: Mandates are not the only way to support staff
Natasha Hawker, Employee Matters managing director, outlines the pitfalls of mandatory vaccination for both employees and employers, as well as the pros in encouraging rather than mandating.
Currently in Australia, there is a lot of confusion in boardrooms, among executive teams and managers, as well as their employees, around vaccines. However, there is also a “crisis-tunity” here to build trust and engagement with employees around vaccine management that does not involve mandatory vaccine management.
Employers are struggling to understand whether they can mandate a vaccine. Qantas has, and SPC in Shepparton was the first to mandate – but why isn’t the government supporting these mandates with legislation? What about employers’ legal “duty of care” obligations to provide a safe workplace for both employees and clients?
The challenges of an unvaccinated workforce are numerous – from crippling lockdowns to questions like: Can employers ask employees about their vaccination status? What if a client will only have vaccinated suppliers onsite? Will the vaccinated ones get all the work while the unvaccinated are underutilised? These dilemmas lead employers to the inevitable question: Why don’t I just insist all my people are vaccinated?
Reason 1: Governments and regulatory bodies are hesitant
The reality is that for many businesses, mandating vaccinations is not an option. Let’s look, first of all, at whether there is support for mandatory vaccinations:
● The federal government has made it clear they do not want to interfere in this area, effectively saying to business, “Go ahead and mandate if you think you can, but we are not going to legislate.”
● The state governments are mandating only those areas where they feel it is essential … and this varies state by state.
● The Business Council of Australia and the Australian Council of Trade Unions have issued a joint statement saying that vaccinations should be voluntary across the vast majority of workplaces.
● The Fair Work Ombudsman has issued advice on a ‘Four Tiered’ approach to mandating vaccines, which effectively makes it clear that unless you are in the top two tiers (quarantine and border control workers, health and aged care workers) you have a lot of work to do before you can even think about mandatory vaccination.
● Safe Work Australia has said it is unlikely that mandatory vaccinations, for most people, will be necessary to meet your health and safety obligations.
Reason 2: Mandatory vaccination policies difficult to negotiate
There is a lot to consider when drafting a policy for mandatory vaccinations (yes, you will need a policy!) to ensure you are being fair and reasonable:
● A “one size fits all” approach might not work. You might have some employees who fit within Fair Work’s definition while others might not (eg “frontline” Tier 3 workers but also Tier 4 “back office” people). So what is reasonable in one instance might not be in another.
● Do you have people with specific medical needs that affect their ability to be vaccinated? If so, how will you verify their case is genuine, and grant exemptions?
● How will you ensure you don’t discriminate against groups either directly or indirectly? Indirect discrimination occurs where you apply the same standard to everyone but certain groups (eg pregnant women, people with a disability) find it more difficult to meet that standard.
● How will you deal with people who simply refuse to be vaccinated? Not only does your decision to terminate need to be reasonable, but the process you follow before you get to this point also needs to be reasonable. Will you formally meet with employees to discuss their refusal, listen to why they are refusing and consider other options before deciding to terminate employment?
Reason 3: Encouraging, rather than mandating, is a better bet
While mandating vaccinations carries risks which should be carefully considered, encouraging people to get vaccinated holds much less risk for potentially the same benefit. A communications campaign around vaccination is a great start. Employers can also consider allowing people to take leave to get vaccinated, or giving paid time off for a vaccination, or a range of other incentives. The Therapeutic Goods Administration has some great information on how you can encourage your workers to get vaccinated.
Done well, vaccine management could be a “game changer” for the Australian economy to get businesses back from the brink at speed, while reducing the unemployment rates. Used effectively, this is the best pathway with the least risk, to lockdown freedom and business success.
This article was originally published in the October issue of Inside FMCG magazine.