CANBERRA, AAP – Calls from Qantas to have governments mandate vaccination for frontline aviation workers went unheeded, weeks before the airline introduced its own mandate.
Qantas chief health officer Ian Hosegood wrote to commonwealth chief health officer Paul Kelly on July 1, three days after national cabinet decided to mandate vaccination for quarantine workers, calling for it to be expanded.
The company was concerned it would not have the legal grounds to mandate vaccinations for its employees without a government health order or direction, documents obtained under freedom of information laws reveal.
Dr Hosegood said the risks of air crew rapidly transmitting the virus across the country and the need for a nationally consistent approach provided a strong case for the mandate.
“Close contact between people is an unavoidable part of essential aviation work.
“The primary public health mitigations of stay-at-home, time minimisation during social activities and strict physical distancing cannot consistently apply.”
At the time, NSW had moved to mandate vaccination for airport workers but excluded freight air crew and some other domestic aviation staff.
Australia’s health advisory committee recommended to national cabinet at its June 28 meeting that quarantine workers face mandatory vaccinations.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee was tasked with providing additional advice to national cabinet on mandatory vaccinations for aviation, interstate freight transport and mining workers at the same meeting.
On July 9, the AHPPC released a statement saying while it strongly encouraged the industries promote and facilitate vaccinations, any mandate would require further work and consultation.
The airline moved ahead unilaterally to mandate vaccinations for its 22,000 workers on August 18, a move which drew criticism from the transport union for “jumping the gun”.
Qantas executive Andrew Parker also wrote to the ACT health minister on the same day Dr Hosegood wrote to Professor Kelly.
In his email marked urgent and confidential, Mr Parker said the vaccination of frontline aviation workers was an “important and necessary” addition to the airline’s COVID-safe protocols.
ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith was asked by her department to sign a reply to Mr Parker’s email in a ministerial briefing on August 18.
Ms Stephen-Smith said the government did not intend on mandating the vaccination of aviation workers.
The ACT government would implement vaccination mandates in a manner consistent with national cabinet advice, her reply said.
Comment was being sought from the federal health department.