How WA’s workplace vaccine mandate will shut the gate on some country businesses

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In just a matter of weeks, Jeff Pow will close his small business in regional Western Australia because all of his employees are refusing to get COVID-19 vaccinations.

Under the WA Government’s workplace vaccine mandate, workers in a number of high-risk industries will be required to have had at least one dose by December 1, including meat workers and community care staff.

According to a new survey by the Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA, more than 40 per cent of country businesses say they expect to be adversely affected by the mandate.

Mr Pow, who runs a small chicken farm and abattoir in Balingup in WA’s South West, which processes 12,000 birds a year, is one of them.

He is vaccinated but said he had been unable to convince any of his five staff to follow suit.

Now, he said, there was not enough time to recruit half a dozen new staff ahead of the mandate coming into effect.

“We’ll have to close,” he said “There will be no more poultry coming out of our farm nor any of the farms that are accessing our facility as well.

“It’s an economic dead-in-the-water policy.”

Mr Pow said it was already difficult to find skilled workers for the South West abattoir.

“We’re quite short on workers in the agriculture sector. You can’t just front up to an approved health facility to work in the harvesting and processing of chickens for chicken meat,” he said.

No exemptions for businesses

Mr Pow said businesses should be able to apply for an exemption to the mandate — an idea which has been knocked back by WA’s Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan.

“We can’t give an exception,” she said.

However, Ms MacTiernan said she would work with regional businesses to find other solutions, such as bringing in workers from the South Pacific.

She admitted the mandate would cause some issues, but said it was in the interest of public health.

“We will see these problems emerging everywhere but the bigger problem will be if COVID comes into the state and starts spreading,” she said

“Companies that have a fully unvaccinated workforce would be incredible vulnerable.”

Region-wide impacts

The ABC has spoken to other businesses in regional WA who also are searching for new staff or closing down because of the vaccine mandate.

The Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA’s latest survey shows 43 per cent of businesses are bracing themselves for some difficult months ahead.

“They’re worried they’re going to lose staff, they’re worried they’re going to lose revenue,” CEO Kitty Prodonovich said.

“We had about five businesses who said they were going to have to close.”

Ms Prodonovich said while big businesses could manage losing staff, it was more challenging for small businesses.

“We’re hearing from every type of business, in every type of industry,” she said.

“It really is small businesses that are copping the brunt of what is an unintended consequence of the mandate.”

She said the state needed  to bring in more workers from overseas.

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(Original ABC Article)