Qantas will make it mandatory for all of its 22,000 workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Frontline employees — including cabin crew, pilots and airport workers — will need to be fully vaccinated by November 15 and the remainder of employees by March 31. There will be exemptions for those who are unable to be vaccinated for documented medical reasons, which is expected to be very rare. "Having a fully vaccinated workforce will safeguard our people against the virus but also protect our customers and the communities we fly to," Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said. "It's clear that vaccinations are the only way to end the cycle of lockdowns and border closures and for a lot of Qantas and Jetstar employees that means getting back to work again."
Mr Joyce said, as vaccines have become available, the airline has "strongly encouraged" all of its staff to get vaccinated and was offering paid time off to get it done. Qantas says three-quarters of staff surveyed by the airline support the move. The policy follows consultation with Qantas and Jetstar employees, including a survey sent to its 22,000 workers to seek their views on vaccination. The company said, of 12,000 responses, 89 percent had already been vaccinated or are planning to be and only 4 percent were unwilling or unable to get the jab. Around three-quarters said it should be a requirement for all employees to be vaccinated and would be concerned if other employees in the workplace were not vaccinated.
"This was one of the largest responses to any survey we've conducted, even with thousands of our people stood down, which shows just how important this is for them," Mr Joyce noted. 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. "Many of our people said they would feel concerned about working with unvaccinated colleagues, which is something that many workplaces across the country are grappling with. "We understand there will be a very small number of people who decide not to get the vaccine, and that's their right, but it's our responsibility to provide the safest possible environment for our employees and for our customers."
While so far declining to provide legislative protection to employers for mandating COVID-19 vaccination for their staff, Prime Minister Scott Morrison praised the way Qantas had gone about its decision, saying it provided a model to other businesses. "They talked to them (their staff), they worked it through, they have a reasonable position to be able to make this request and they've gone about it I think in a very engaged way," he said. "And they've come up I think with a fair and well intentioned direction. So I wish them well with that."
The Transport Workers Union (TWU) slammed Qantas for pushing ahead with the announcement on mandatory vaccination without consulting all its workers, saying the airline had not addressed staff concerns about losing pay or difficulties accessing the vaccine. TWU national secretary Michael Kaine called on Qantas to meet with workers and unions to ensure workers would not risk losing their jobs or any pay. The Prime Minster has refused to mandate COVID vaccines for workplaces, so where does that leave businesses who want to require their staff, and even customers, to be vaccinated?
"Qantas has jumped the gun yet again ahead of the Attorney-General's roundtable today of ACTU and employer associations on vaccination take-up," Mr Kaine said. "This snap announcement is completely void of a plan to support workers to get vaccinated by November. "Qantas knows that workers are worried about losing out on pay or shifts that could earn them penalty rates while trying to get vaccinated and recovering from side effects."
A union survey of 800 aviation workers showed only one-third had been fully vaccinated, with many workers saying they were having difficulty getting access to the vaccine and in organising vaccinations ahead of roster changes, with the potential of losing work.
The union said the majority of those vaccinated organised the shot themselves (70 percent), with just 30 percent assisted by their employer.
"If Qantas truly had health and safety in mind, it would be offering support to workers and ensuring rapid testing of passengers and crew is put in place to prevent the risk of spread on planes," Mr Kaine said.