The recent Chief Health Officer Directive that mandated vaccinations for the majority of workers in the Territory has caused concern within the civil sector. Our industry was given limited flexibility to accommodate workers who were vaccine hesitant at a time when labour resources are hard to find, this mandate will lead to some workers moving to other industry sectors. While we have advocated for more flexibility for our industry due to the nature of many of our operations, there have been no changes to the conditions.
The Chief Health Officer did provide us with contact details to share with workers who are vaccine hesitant. The Immunisation team at the Centre for Disease Control can be contacted on 8922 8044.
The following is an extract from correspondence to the Chief Health Officer in Mid-October
Dear Dr Heggie,
Thank you for the additional information.
I am concerned by what seems to be a change in language from the briefing that I attended yesterday that was facilitated by the Deputy Chief Health Officer and the CEO of the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade. At that meeting it was made clear to the industry representatives that were in attendance that your Directive would sit above all workplace legislation and that if there were dismissals as a result of non-compliance with the Directive, that there would be no consequences to the employer regarding the dismissal. The following lines in your correspondence this morning, seem to be now a little less firm than the verbal information provided at the briefing yesterday.
In the event a worker refuses to get the vaccine or refuses to disclose their vaccination status, that worker cannot enter the workplace, which may affect their employment. I encourage all business owners, employers and workplace operators to familiarise themselves with Work Health and Safety rules and regulations, and with the information and advice from FairWork Australia.
Many Civil Construction activities are impacted by the Directive. There will not be many alternate options for a worker who refuses to be vaccinated to be redeployed to another role within a civil company if they are part of road or infrastructure construction activities. Your Direction would mean that many would be dismissed at a time where we are already experiencing severe labour shortages. It is very important for industry that there is clarity around the legal ramifications of your Direction for businesses that are left with no alternate to employee dismissal. You cannot roll all this risk to business alone.
We are also concerned that at a time of extreme pressure in the labour market that civil operators may lose workers to other sectors due to different classification in your Direction.
Not only are there significant staffing issues across the civil construction sector in general, but when you look into Indigenous employment and worker opportunities the issue is elevated to an extreme shortage. Civil companies have worked for years to increase their Indigenous worker competencies and workforce and now the very direction that is aimed at protecting vulnerable people in our community, will potentially see Indigenous workers (and others) who are refusing to be vaccinated lose their jobs within the civil sector.
I understand that all workers who would be travelling into remote regions and areas where there is a high chance of contact with vulnerable members of our community would need to be vaccinated, but I am struggling to understand how a civil operator undertaking a road project in other settings would be treated differently to other construction workers. Many civil construction sites are dominated by single cab and single operator machinery, that will have no contact with members of the general public. We need work options for workers who refuse to be vaccinated and if there is a blanket ruling that all road projects (and other civil related infrastructure) require mandatory vaccination for our workers then we will lose people to other sectors of the construction sector who are not included in your Direction.
From discussions with civil operators yesterday and today, it is clear that the vast majority of the industry is vaccinated or going to be vaccinated, but hesitancy is real in many Indigenous workers (and others) in our industry and this is going to create a major problem for both the industry and the broader economy.
We would like to see a re-evaluation of the risks associated with our sector to recognise that not all sites or regions present that same risk profile. We know that all regional and remote works that may be in and near communities will need the work crews to be fully vaccinated.