Published: 20/08/2021
Category: On The Job
Published: 20/08/2021
Category: On The Job

It’s hard to be shocked by much in these crazy times.

Yet, occasionally, something is said that makes your jaw slacken and leaves you scratching your head in bewilderment.

Take for instance my recent exchange with a seasoned media professional about the state of the COVID-19 pandemic and the continuing need for lockdowns as a frontline tool in curbing infection and mortality whilst we wait for the train wreck that is the vaccine rollout to gather momentum.

“Surely, with so few infections per day (in Victoria) we can open up,” they proffered.

I countered that with vaccination rates still intolerably low, letting the disease off the leash would be a disaster, particularly for those working in the healthcare sector.

“All those double vaxxed doctors and nurses?” they retorted, implying that there was nothing to worry about in our hospitals and nursing homes.

Say what?

If a senior journalist (who is usually across the details that matter most on the crucial issues of the day) can be so far off the mark on the reality facing health and care professionals, then clearly, we have a problem.

Lloyd Williams, National Secretary of the Health Services Union (HSU), was quick to correct that record when he spoke with On the Job.

“The health sector and the caring sector is not just doctors and nurses,” Williams said.  

“Yes, the majority of doctors and nurses would have been vaccinated but there’s literally tens of thousands of allied health and support workers that make sure our hospitals and health system tick over every single day.

 “When we talk about the caring sector, the majority of those are in aged care and disability workers, and the level of vaccination in both of these areas is still way too low.

“There is still about 40 per cent of staff in aged care that is yet to receive their first dose and that’s extraordinary. That’s about 100,000 workers. When it comes to the disability workforce, only 45 per cent of the workforce have received their first jab.”

Williams is incensed that the Morrison Government has mandated a vaccine for workers in caring professions, whilst it continues to preside over a painfully slow, chaotic vaccine rollout.

“The Morrison Government has come out with this dog whistle around mandating, which is effectively trying to shift the blame from its own supply debacle on to workers, and to try and pretend this is a problem is because workers aren’t getting vaccinated,” he said.

“It is an absolute nonsense. There is no evidence of that, whatsoever. What there is evidence of is the poor vaccine supply that the Morrison Government failed to rollout.”

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Secretary Sally McManus has also been critical of the Government’s botched vaccine rollout effort. She emphasised that as the supply of vaccines finally increases, the Government needs to ensure workers are supported in their efforts to become inoculated from COVID-19.

“There is no more important job to be done, than getting 80% of Australians vaccinated. As the supply issue finally get resolved in spring, we need everyone – employers, unions and governments to be doing everything they can to make it simple and easy for people to get vaccinated,” McManus said.

“We need the Federal Government to remove every barrier people may have to getting vaccinated. One important barrier is any financial penalty.

“Casual workers and anyone without leave will risk paying a price to get the vaccine due to routine side effects, which means lost income because they have no paid leave. This can be rectified with the Federal Government taking action to guarantee paid vaccination leave. This will give all working people an equal choice.”

Lloyd Williams worries that workers in the caring sector continue to be pushed beyond their limits as the COVID-19 pandemic goes on ­– left exposed to getting sick themselves while dealing with the reality of how damaging the disease is for those in their care.

“It is a traumatised workforce. They have seen the risk and threat to the people that they care for. That traumatises them, and they live with the anxiety that they could take the infection home to their family and friends,” Williams said.

Sally McManus remains committed to keeping the pressure on the Morrison Government to support workers as they seek to get vaccinated.

“From September the Morrison Government expects to vaccinate two million workers per week. We will not get the job done by Christmas if we expect working people to get the jab on lunch breaks and weekends – this is where paid vaccination leave comes in.”

“The Morrison Government needs to step up and ensure that every Australian can get the vaccine as soon as possible.”

Workers need paid vaccination leave

Workers caring for Australians still facing vaccine crisis

Workers caring for Australians still facing vaccine crisis