CANBERRA, AAP – Businesses in coronavirus hotspots will be on safer legal ground to mandate vaccines under new advice from the workplace regulator.
The Fair Work Ombudsman has released updated information for employers after Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected calls to indemnify businesses.
The advice sets out four tiers of work environments with the top two including staff who interact with infected or vulnerable people.
The ombudsman says it likely to be reasonable for businesses in both tiers to mandate immunisation.
Work environments where staff interact with customers, other employees or the public are considered to be in the third tier.
For those businesses, the ombudsman says in areas where no community transmission has occurred for some time, a direction to employees to be vaccinated is less likely to be considered reasonable.
For businesses that need to remain open during lockdowns, community transmission makes mandatory workplace vaccinations more likely to be reasonable.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said the hotspot definition was important because it would allow businesses more opportunity to protect workers and the community.
“Business now has some clear lines of sight around what they can and can’t do,” he told the Seven Network.
“The key point here is that business is going to be able to argue that it is ‘lawful and reasonable’ for them to vaccinate if that’s what they need to do to protect their workers.”
Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus said mandating vaccines in some sectors could be a recipe for unnecessary conflict.
Ms McManus said public health experts should decide on vaccine mandates rather than employers or governments.
“This is a really bad distraction,” she told the ABC.
“We’re just talking about punishing people, threatening them with their jobs.”
She said employers should remove barriers for workers to receive jabs and warned the debate was premature with vaccine supplies still short.
Senior cabinet minister Peter Dutton defended the lack of federal government intervention, saying it was up to states to issue public health orders around vaccines.
“We are not going to force people down and jab them in the arm. That is not going to happen in our country,” he told the Nine Network on Friday.
Mr Dutton backed canned food producer SPC over its immunisation mandate and said restaurant owners could decide to deny entry to unvaccinated staff and patrons.
“That’s a decision for that owner to take and that is a perfectly reasonable one,” he said.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the federal government should sit down with industry and unions.
“You can’t just push it out to the states. It’s not our responsibility, it’s a federal issue,” she told reporters.
The Business Council of Australia and the ACTU issued a joint statement saying the overwhelming majority of workers should have voluntary vaccination.
“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.”