Westpac, CBA make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for all staff

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Westpac and the Commonwealth Bank have become the latest employers to make it mandatory for their employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, in a move that will affect around 76,000 workers across the country.

Westpac staff in NSW, Victoria and the ACT will be required to be fully vaccinated by December 1, and employees in other states will be required to be fully vaccinated to attend a workplace by February 1, 2022.

The bank said the new requirement is for the heath and safety of both its staff and customers.

Vaccines have been made compulsory across aged care, construction in Victoria, a range of customer-facing sectors that are now open again across NSW, and a few companies in the private sector like SPC and Qantas.

Westpac said the vaccine requirement is unlikely to affect a large proportion of its workforce.

An internal survey of 10,000 people showed that 91 per cent of respondents were, or intended to be, vaccinated, while only 4 per cent said they were undecided, according to the bank.

“With a large workforce, it is important that we have the safest possible work environment,” Westpac CEO Peter King said in a statement.

“Since the NSW outbreak started in June, more than 3,800 of our employees have been required to isolate and more than 280 branches have closed and re-opened, both significantly disrupting operations.

“It is clear that the best way to keep our people safe and stay open for our customers is for people to be vaccinated.”

Westpac has established employee vaccination hubs across several locations in NSW and plans to expand to more locations.

Consultation with employees will start from Thursday to iron out details of the policy, including how medical exemptions will be applied and what will happen with employees who choose not to be vaccinated.

CBA to follow

The Commonwealth Bank will also begin consultation with staff to seek views about its proposed policy making COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory.

The proposed policy is yet to be made public.

“In line with our ongoing efforts to protect our people and customers from the health risks associated with COVID-19, CBA will require all employees around Australia to be fully vaccinated,” a spokesperson told the ABC.

“This follows regular feedback from our employees and customers who want certainty, consistency and confidence as the economy re-opens and life in our communities returns to normal.”

Earlier this year, CBA introduced rapid antigen testing and a corporate vaccination program for its staff and their families.

The bank will require Victorian staff to be fully vaccinated by November 26, its NSW and ACT staff have until December 1, the Northern Territory until December 24, and other states until February next year.

So far, NAB and ANZ have not decided whether they will mandate COVID-19 vaccines for their staff.

It is legal for employers like big banks to mandate COVID-19 vaccines?

The short answer is yes. But that also depends on the nature of the job and the workplace set up, according to Dr Giuseppe Carabetta, a senior lecturer in employment law from the University of Sydney.

“For example, whether social distancing is possible, the physical layout of the workplace and how many employees are typically there,” he told the ABC.

“Though we have no firm court decision as yet, it seems clear they can where a direct law says so, or, more commonly, where the banks can argue their mandate or policy falls within their general right, as an employer, to issue ‘lawful and reasonable directions’.

Currently, there are public health orders across states and territories regarding vaccination in high-risk sectors such as aged care, schools, quarantine workers and even certain port workers, and Victoria has a vaccine mandate for all on-site authorised workers.

Dr Carabetta said apart from that, an employer was essentially left to rely on common law to issue lawful and reasonable orders.

But he said employees could still challenge a vaccine mandate in some circumstances.

“Unless the circumstances of the job call for a mandate, employees in low exposure settings may be able to question the scope of a mandate where, for example, they are dismissed for refusing to vaccinate,” he said.

“An unfair dismissal challenge would also trigger broader employee rights including procedural rights on dismissal.

“Discrimination laws prohibit adverse treatment on grounds such as health or disability, but a mandate will likely provide a medical exemption.

“Further, it may well be an inherent requirement of the job to be vaccinated where the job involves physical interactions with others, so there a discrimination argument won’t succeed if it’s impossible to accommodate the employee.”

By business reporter Samuel Yang (Original ABC Article)