The federal government is walking away from its previous promise to vaccinate aged care workers at their workplace, with the change in tack set to place greater pressures on many frontline healthcare staff who have kept Australians safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ACTU has argued.
When announcing the national vaccine rollout in February, the federal government pledged to send dedicated teams to nursing homes to vaccinate staff. But two months in, only about 15% of aged care workers, who were initially part of the highest priority stage, phase 1a, have been vaccinated.
At yesterday’s meeting of National Cabinet, the government moved to fast-track the vaccine rollout for people older than 50, and said it would continue to prioritise the residential aged care workforce.
However, the ACTU says the federal government is backing away from its previous commitment to provide vaccinations in workplaces for workers such as aged care and disability service staff.
The workers, many whom are casuals, will now be forced to travel to vaccination centres, and face uncertainty over whether they will be supported financially by the government in the event they have to give up shifts or suffer side-effects from the vaccine that prevent them from working, the ACTU argues.
The shift will create new barriers to vaccination for critical frontline healthcare workers and drive many to choose between being vaccinated and being paid.
“The Morrison Government is abandoning frontline healthcare workers who have kept vulnerable Australians safe through the pandemic and need to be supported through the vaccination process,” ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien said.
“The target that the Government has set – to complete 1a by the middle of the year – is inexplicably slow. These workers were told they would be treated with the same urgency and attention as other frontline health staff, but many will end up waiting six months to be vaccinated.”
The ACTU is calling on the government to support workers who will now need to take time away from work in order to get vaccinated, and may face side-effects without sick leave.
“It is unreasonable and counter-productive to ask these workers to choose between getting paid and getting the vaccine.”