COVID-19 vaccinations will become mandatory for all residential aged care workers, with staff required to get at least the first dose of vaccine by mid-September, following a decision made at an emergency national cabinet meeting last night.
Meeting to discuss Australia’s COVID-19 response and evolving vaccine strategy, national cabinet agreed on mandatory vaccination for all residential aged care staff as a condition of working in the sector.
To implement the plan, the federal government says it will be achieved through ‘shared state, territory and Commonwealth authorities and compliance measures’. It will also provide $11 million to support aged care workers to get the jab at off-site vaccination centres and GPs. Under the grant, residential aged care facilities will be paid varying amounts to enable casual staff to attend off-site vaccinations, provide paid leave for staff if they become unwell after vaccination and do not have other leave entitlements, and facilitate off-site vaccinations for staff, such as by providing transport services.
Addressing a press conference last night, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the decision to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for aged care workers had not been taken lightly and followed three separate discussions at national cabinet.
To ensure compliance, he said the Government and states would jointly implement the measure using the same system as mandatory flu vaccinations for aged care workers.
Further risk and benefit assessment will now be conducted and reported back to national cabinet by early August, he added.
“We need to make sure that there are no unintended consequences of this decision,” Mr Morrison said.
“We want to make sure that this won’t have a negative impact on available workforce.”
Yet according to the ANMF, there is still ongoing confusion and very little detail on how mandatory vaccinations would be implemented. For example, there is still no guarantee of special paid leave to assist aged care staff to get their vaccinations and the $11 million pledged for workers, is just $30 allocated for each worker still unvaccinated.
The Morrison Government’s promises for aged care keep coming, yet at this stage, there are still more questions than answers,” ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler said.
“Whilst the ANMF strongly encourages our members working in aged care to get vaccinated, we need to ensure that the Government’s mandate is based on clear-cut health advice not political advice. The critical issues now are access to vaccines and support for aged care staff, Ms Butler said.
“So far, the vaccine roll-out in privately-run aged care facilities has been an absolute shambles. To protect workers, elderly residents and the wider community, we need guaranteed access to vaccines for all aged care workers and paid leave to support that access and management of any reactions they may experience.”
For three months, the ANMF has been pleading with the Government to fund special leave to support aged care staff to get vaccinated, to no avail. The union says last night’s announcement has no surety and guarantees that aged care staff, especially those in insecure work, will have access to vaccinations and be supported financially so that they don’t louse hours and pay when they get the vaccine.
“We still don’t know how vaccinations will be mandated; how staff will access the vaccines. Will they access on site where they work, or will they be forced to source their own?” Ms Butler said.
“Aged care workers are confused, and many aged care providers are confused. Workers need clarity and security and action by the Government which is based on clear health advice.
The ANMF has written to the Prime Minister seeking urgent clarification on these issues.
“We know that as a nation, we must escalate the vaccination roll-out in aged care and the wider community and the ANMF and its members are willing and able to work with the Government and health agencies to get the job done.”
Equally frustrated by broken promises and a lack of action, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said last night’s announcement falls short of what is needed to fix the rollout’s issues.
It argues that the mandating of vaccines shifts the blame onto aged care workers, who were told they would be vaccinated at work. With more than 180,000 aged care workers who will require two doses and potentially experience side-effects, the government’s $11 million funding package only works out to about $30 per worker per dose to fund sick and vaccination leave, according to the ACTU.
It says the government must prioritise increasing vaccine supply and effective delivery.
“No more talk, no more half measures, just get the job done,” ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said.
“Mobilise your resources to get teams to workplaces and support the casualised workforce so they are not out of pocket if they get side-effects. $30 per dose for a worker just doesn’t cut it, especially when you are now mandating vaccines.
“Mandating the vaccine for aged care workers will not fix the fact that at the moment they cannot access them, with no at work vaccination program and limited supplies. The thing that really needs to be mandated is a vaccine team visiting every aged care home.”
United Workers Union’s Aged Care Director, Carolyn Smith, said the introduction of mandatory vaccinations for aged care workers reflected the “complete failure” of the federal government to fulfil its commitment to vaccinate the workforce at their facilities.
“Aged care workers were supposed to have been 1a in the rollout and vaccinated at their aged care facilities,” Ms Smith said.
“Instead they were only given leftovers and vast numbers of them missed out.
“Now aged care workers are being given a two-month deadline to be vaccinated in what has become, sadly, a familiar theme of aged care workers being blamed for the federal government’s failings.
“The rollout of this vaccine has been an exercise in ineptitude and aged care workers have borne the brunt of that.”
Ms Smith said the mandatory vaccination program “simply has to work” or the sector will face a new and deeper crisis.
“If workers find themselves banned wholesale because of failures in the mandatory vaccination program that will lead to even further shortages in aged care staffing and even poorer outcomes for older Australians.”