Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Assistant Secretary, Liam O’Brien, says vaccination is the “only ethical way that we move beyond the pandemic.”
“What’s really critical right now, not just to Australia, but to the whole world, is that we must get everyone vaccinated as soon as possible, or we risk further mutating strains,” he explained to On the Job with Francis Leach & Sally Rugg.
“We need to get to 70 or 80% of the population vaccinated in order for us to have enough herd immunity to potentially end the pandemic and loosen some restrictions.”
Key to hitting these vaccination numbers is building public trust and confidence and Mr O’Brien sees the Australian union movement as playing a critical role in this.
“Unions play a really critical role in being able to encourage members to take those important but personal decisions to accept vaccination.
“We don’t want to see some employers sort of haphazardly say I’m going to impose a mandatory vaccination program in this workplace.
“What we’d far rather see is us relying upon those same public health experts that have gotten us through this pandemic thus far, to be the ones that determine what are the really high-risk workplaces where we should require it.”
Overall, Mr O’Brien is pleased with the vaccination roll-out strategy but would like to see some changes to worker access to the program.
“We see in that first phase of rollout, workers such as those in hotel quarantine, or those bringing returned Australians back, those workers in ICU units, in health and aged care, those are the groups which we want to get vaccinated really quickly because they are most likely to be at high-risk of being exposed, and most likely to have serious consequences if they contract the virus,” he explained.
“We think there’s a lot more work that needs to be done there.
“We know from watching particularly Melbourne, in that second wave, that there are workers throughout the economy, that if we get community outbreak, are the frontline…whether it be grocery workers, public transport workers, teachers.
“We need to be prioritizing workers like this. The Federal Government does need to lift its game in relation to that. Some of those workers are still not included in those early phases and we think it’s important that they be given early access to the vaccine.”
While the ACTU will continue raise these issues, the main priority is to see workers following the advice of public health experts.
“I think what’s really important about this is that we are taking the same approach to vaccination as we took to protection – we take the advice of public health experts”, Mr O’Brien said.
“Whether you’re a frontline health worker, where this is going to be a really critical control in terms of keeping you safe, whether you’re a member of the community like me, we want to make sure that we’re building that herd immunity, which means that there’s little or no chance of community outbreaks like what we’ve seen in Australia.
“We want Australians to roll up their sleeves in record numbers to get these vaccines.”