Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have heard so many commentators and interest groups demanding a return to life as usual. The business community was perhaps the most vocal of these groups, arguing that the cost to the economy was not worth the health measures that were literally saving thousands of lives.
Having taken this position for so long - that things need to return to normal - you would think that businesses would be doing everything they can to make it easier for their workforce to get vaccinated. Some certainly are. Workers at large employers such as Woolworths, Bunnings, Kmart and Target all have access to paid leave to help them to get a vaccine.
Throughout June and July, Finance Sector Union members have been calling for special leave that would allow them two days off work to get vaccinated and recover from the jab.
Seventy-five employers, including banks, superannuation funds and insurance agencies, were the targets of a campaign by the FSU and its members to provide this vital arrangement for their workers.
Of the 75 companies that were targeted, 20 have so far agreed to provide paid vaccination leave to their workers. This is a huge win, and represents more than 130,000 workers who have access to paid leave to get vaccinated that they didn’t have four weeks ago. But 20 out of 75 leaves a lot of workers without this vital entitlement.
Tackling the Real Barriers to Vaccine Access
We hear a lot about vaccine “hesitancy”, but little about the practical barriers that stand in the way of people accessing vaccines.
Myrna works for one of the major banks. She’s over 60, a frontline worker and her husband is in a high-risk category due to a heart condition. COVID-19 would more than likely be fatal for him.
Myrna feels lucky to have secured one dose of the jab in her own time, but was struck by the inflexible nature of the system.
“When you go to the doctor to receive your vaccination, every vial is booked and accounted for,” she says. “Every vial has ten doses, and those ten appointments for those people are made well in advance.
“You can’t miss it. If you do, you might have to wait another three months, and there’s strict timeframes on when you need to get that second dose for it to be effective.”
Given the non-negotiable nature of the timing of vaccines, Myrna believes it’s particularly important for employers to grant vaccination leave to help facilitate people accessing the vaccine.
“I work on the frontline, so I’m talking to 80 to 100 people a day. I have customer appointments. You would think it’s in the company’s interest to keep customers safe and to keep me safe.”
She notes that business continuity plans exist for many other scenarios - such as a fire, threat or hold-ups.
“But guess what? There’s no business continuity plan for not receiving your vaccination and then spreading COVID to customers and colleagues. It’s in their interest to do it.”
On top of the risk to their own operations, banks are failing to live up to their own branding as pillars of local communities.
“I live in a small rural community and I don’t want to let down anyone else that’s waiting for their vaccination. Or worse yet, I don’t want to contract the virus and then be the one to spread it around town,” Myrna explains.
Myrna is already “really stressed” about how she will navigate getting time off work to access her second jab.
“I’ve been at the bank for ten years, I’ve been loyal and I’m good at my job, but the anxiety this is causing me is ridiculous.”
It’s Easy When You Make It Easy
In contrast to Myrna’s story, Dave has had no difficulties whatsoever. His employer, another major bank, has yielded to workers’ demands for paid leave for vaccination and the results have been clear: when you make it easy for people, the uptake will follow.
He received his second dose yesterday and has taken another day off due to side-effects. This has had to come out of sick leave, which isn’t ideal, but the ability to schedule the jab in the first place was made much easier by the entitlement.
“I just went to my manager and said I need this time off to go and get the vaccine done, and that was it. Just a conversation.”
He says that nearly all of his co-workers have received their first dose or are booked in by now, since the leave entitlement was announced.
“Now that they’re approving the leave requests, everyone’s going and doing it. I feel much safer now that we’re all doing it.”
This same peace of mind should be extended to all workers.
Last year, Victorians learned the hard way how rising job insecurity and lack of access to leave entitlements could put all of us at risk. More Australians than ever before work in precarious forms of employment, without access to sick leave. Our hours are often not conducive to scheduling medical appointments. For many of us, turning down a shift risks incurring the ire of an employer - which can lead to losing more than just one shift’s pay.
PS: Union members who have experienced adverse action for using their entitlements should call their delegate! Adverse action is illegal.
Sign the petition
Australian Unions have started this petition to demand that all workers be afforded paid vaccination leave in order to keep ourselves, our families and our communities safe. Sign it, share it with your workmates, and demand that the Federal Government take some responsibility for the insecurity of Australian workers!
Australians have already signed — will you join them?
Throughout June and July, Finance Sector Union members have been calling for special leave that would allow them two days off work to get vaccinated and recover from the jab. Seventy-five employers, including banks, superannuation funds and insurance agencies, were encouraged to sign the pledge to provide this vital arrangement for their workers.