Residential aged care workers have 10 weeks to get at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to continue working in the sector, the Prime Minister has announced.

The news has been largely welcomed but provider and worker stakeholders have reiterated concerns over workers being unable to access a vaccine while provider reporting shows little change in vaccine uptake over the last week.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders held an emergency National Cabinet meeting on Monday to discuss the escalating COVID-19 outbreaks around the country and continue talks on the nation’s vaccine strategy including mandating it for aged care staff.

Mr Morrison said National Cabinet this week agreed to make it compulsory for residential aged care workers to have a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition for working in aged care homes like already exists for the influenza vaccine.  

Aged care workers will have until mid-September to get a first dose a under a partnership arrangement between the Commonwealth and states and territories like the current system for mandatory influenza vaccinations to work in aged care.

“For me, mid-September that’s the latest we want to see it and we would like to see it progress… sooner than that. But of course, we will work with the sector to ensure this is done as effectively and as safely as possible,” Mr Morrison said in a virtual press conference on Monday.

Scott Morrison

Mr Morrison also announced the Residential Aged Care COVID-19 Employee Vaccination Support Grant scheme to encourage providers to give staff paid-leave to get vaccinated.

Under the $11 million scheme, aged care homes can receive a flat fee of $80 per casual staff member per dose and up to $500 per site to facilitate off-site vaccinations.

The grant also provides one day of paid leave of $185 for casual staff without leave entitlements who become unwell after a vaccination. This is payable for up to a quarter of the provider’s total number of casual staff.

“The Commonwealth will be backing up that decision for mandatory vaccination, not just by supporting the states and territories with compliance as a joint effort, but ensuring we’re also supporting residential aged care facility providers with that additional financial support to get that job done,” Mr Morrison said.

Further detail on the grant and compliance process for mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations is being prepared.

 “The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee will be providing further advice to ensure there are no unintended consequences of the outcome of the introduction of mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for residential workers,” a spokesperson for the Department of Health told Australian Ageing Agenda.

As at 29 June, more than 95 per cent of aged care providers have reported the vaccination status of 266,943 workers under the new mandatory reporting requirements, the spokesperson said.

Just a third of these workers have received a vaccination including 43,884 workers who are fully vaccinated with two doses (16 per cent) and 45,876 workers who have had a first dose only (17 per cent), the health department said.

The number of providers and workers reported has gone up since last week, but the proportion of workers who have received one and two doses has remained the same.

Mandatory vaccinations lawful

Employment rights legal centre JobWatch executive director Zana Bytheway said mandating vaccination in high-risk workplaces could be considered lawful and reasonable.

“Under occupational health and safety law, an employer is required to do whatever is reasonable and practicable to ensure workplace health and safety,” Ms Bytheway said.

Zana Bytheway

“However for it to be considered a reasonable direction, any out-of-pocket expenses or loss of income from complying with these directions should be covered by the employer,” she said.

Ms Bytheway said medical exemptions may apply, but warns government orders and public health directives may prevent employers from making reasonable adjustments.

“It is likely that the government’s mandatory vaccination order will… not allow for individual medical exemptions,” she said.

“Any individual who genuinely cannot receive a vaccination because of a medical exemption should seek independent legal advice about their options.”

Peaks welcome announcement

Sean Rooney

Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney welcomed making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory in aged care but said questions remained unanswered.

“What exceptions will be in place for staff unable to be vaccinated? Will GPs, allied health professionals, volunteers and family members who regularly visit aged care homes and spend long periods of time with residents and staff be required to be vaccinated? What supports will be in place to prioritise staff vaccinations?” Mr Rooney said in a statement.

He said it was important to understand what supports will be in place for aged care homes left short staffed if some workers are unwilling or unable to be vaccinated.

“What supports will be in place to prioritise staff vaccinations?”

Sean Rooney, CEO of Leading Age Services Australia

Aged and Community Services Australia CEO Patricia Sparrow said mandating the vaccine was “the right decision” but said it wouldn’t resolve accessibility issues.

Patricia Sparrow

“The best way to improve vaccination rates is to make it as easy as possible for aged care workers, including through on-site workplace vaccination,” Ms Sparrow said in a statement.

“Our workers were given priority as 1A and 1B at the beginning of the year, yet they are still waiting to be vaccinated,” she said.

Unions raise access concerns

Union groups have also reiterated concerns about access to the vaccine.

United Workers Union aged care director Carolyn Smith said the announcement was a “political fix” rather than a “public health fix”.

Carolyn Smith

“This decision comes on the back of a complete failure of the Federal Government to fulfil its commitment to vaccinate aged care workers. The rollout of the vaccination to the aged care workforce has been absolutely bungled,” Ms Smith told Australian Ageing Agenda.

“The government made no attempts whatsoever to reach aged care workers and are now giving them 10 weeks to be vaccinated or lose their jobs,” Ms Smith said.

Ms Smith said she hoped the funding package adequately to support residential aged care staff to receive the vaccine.

“I hope they’ve put enough money aside that workers will get compensated for taking time off work because many aged care workers work two jobs. That is the reality of aged care,” she said.

“The government made no attempts whatsoever to reach aged care workers and are now giving them 10 weeks to be vaccinated or lose their jobs.”

Carolyn Smith, aged care director at United Workers Union
Sally McManus

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus called on the government to “get the job done” to vaccinate staff.

“Mandating the vaccine for aged care workers will not fix the fact that at the moment they cannot access them, with no at-work vaccination program and limited supplies. The thing that really needs to be mandated is a vaccine team visiting every aged care home,” Ms McManus said.

Health Services Union national president Gerard Hayes said aged care workers deserved a right to paid leave or the workforce would “crumble”.

“Providing money to employers to possibly encourage workers to get vaccinated is not good enough. This policy has more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese. Workers, including casuals, need an ironclad right to paid leave to get vaccinated and recover,” Mr Hayes said.

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15 Comments

  1. I am an aged care worker in Sydney. I am in group 1B. I would love to get the vaccine!
    I was booked in for the jab last week but it was cancelled the night before. Now I find myself on Service NSW websites trying to find a location near enough to reach when I have time off, and failing that anywhere at all that has any available slot. There was nothing available for my age group; “try again in a week”, it says yet again. Same result as last week.
    Given the online booking approach was a disappointing failure , I spent 120 minutes in a telephone queue to get someone else to make me a booking. So here am I, a priority group 1B individual travelling all over Sydney to my various aged and disabled clients, and the soonest I can be vaccinated is late August! I do not like being told to hurry up. If you want me to hurry up, then make the vaccine bookings available.

  2. I tried to get the Pfizer vaccine in my rural area , they have none , my local liberal member can’t help . All I can get is the AstraZeneca but I don’t want that on advise I have got . I’m a health care worker and if they don’t have Pfizer vaccine soon for me I will lose my job along with everything else because of the Slack Morrison government . My brother and sister in law office worker got there Pfizer in the city no problem the other day . I thought Health care workers had the 1 pst choice

  3. National Cabinet don’t have a mandate to legislate anything. Will this directive be enacted by State Health Departments or Federal Health? Another example of policy-on-the-run and “we’ll figure it out later”.

  4. The state and territory governments will have to legislate it, like for the flu vaccine. The states and territories agreed ayt National Cabinet to do so.

  5. I have worked in Case Management and Service provision for many different Community Agencies supporting people over 65 years and under 65 years. The funding has been Commonwealth Home Support, Home Care Packages, and State under 65 HACC funding. All these clients are supported to remain in their homes with the input from many different staff ,entering their homes to provide services. Commencing with Assessment staff, Allied health staff, Personal carers, people making modifications to the homes. With the funds being provided mostly by the Commonwealth, to support these services, surly it is a concern if the staff going into these peoples homes are not vaccinated against COVID.
    I believe the Community Sector in both disability and Aged are not given the priority they need. The focus is always on the Residential Homes when the Government is increasing funding to allow more people to remain in the Community. These people are also very vulnerable many of the clients, I have been dealing with are cancelling services to stay safe. This is concerning as they are in need to the services and are becoming more isolated trying to stay safe by refusing services from the people who are there to help them. For this reason, I feel there should be a concerted effort to make sure the staff who work in the Community are also given the priority to allow them to be vaccinated.

  6. I work in a multi purpose rural Hospital/Aged Care/Urgent Care facility and staff here have mostly just recieved their first jab. I got anxious with the ever emerging outbreaks and sourced my jabs at a medical practice and will have 2nd jab next week. This is not what we would have expected in Australia for front line and Aged Care workforce. Mandating should speed up the process, so I say bring it on !

  7. According to the Australian constitution you cannot make a vaccination mandatory ,yet we as aged care workers are told you have to get the jab or lose your job. This is totally unfair i dont want the jab but i love my job so i am being forced to leave. Its not going to stop us taking it in to a facility ,it only lasts a couple of months in your body and its not going to stop us getting it so why is it being made mandatory .

  8. I applaud the government for mandating this, I work in the hospitals also, where to get a job I had to prove and update an array of vaccinations, this one will just add to the list. As a Nurse caring for the most vulnerable, it is the least I can do to protect myself, and them. I hope that the Govt makes it mandatory for all healthcare workers, not just aged care.

  9. I think it’s unfair to force staff to have the vaccine. Where are our rights!. It is not mandatory for residents and Aged care visitors who cuddle and kiss our residents. Not happy, but i think i won’t be the only one leaving a job that i love

  10. If I am being forced to take a vaccine that doesn’t stop you getting covid or passing it onto anyone else that hasn’t been tested or even lasts long I’m not getting it ide rather quit my aged care job that pays less then a bar maids or waitress when we’re literally attending to health care needs and not valued at all as workers under paid and under staffed all the time and not appreciated either looks like it’s a new job career for me I’m not risking my health having that put into my body when no one knows the damage it causes! No thanks I’ll pass now you really will see a drop in staff not everyone will stay with bad pay it’s not worth the risk we’re taking! I love my job but me and my kids are more important then risking my life for a trial vaccine like I’m a guinea pig! Good luck with that! It won’t stop it spreading when visitors can still bring it into the facility if their a concern the elderly then anyone worker or visitor should be made to have the vaccine not just workers! Until the nation has been made mandatory I’m not getting it!

  11. I am an aged care worker who is due to have a baby in mid November. I was hoping to continue working until the end of October…but it looks like I will be leaving early. Its not worth the unknown risk to myself and especially bubs.

  12. The major problem in all of this covid idiocy – mandatory vaccinations etc, is that most of the human race are like sheep, looking for a government, or somebody to tell them how. What, & when! Government hand outs – not taking responsibility etc. WAKE UP !! We are Souvereign beings – & should be free to move freely on this beautiful planet , free to make decisions on what we put into our bodies

  13. I am a domestic service assistant for an aged care company working out in homes and not residential facilities. I have been told I too am required to receive a ‘mandatory’ vaccination, I have made the decision to not take this trial vaccine that is causing deaths And severe side effects, does not have studies on long term effects. I understand that in due time I will be forced out of my job. I know a few other workers who are the same as me, I’m wondering how much harm will come to our elderly because of extreme under staffing in aged care facilities. If this vaccine is so effective then why are vaccinated elderly still considered ‘at risk’ around staff who are not. It’s an oxymoron to say the least. If I choose to trust my God given immune system over a trial vaccination then should that not be my health my choice?

  14. I possibly would get vac.
    but as age care worker being told” you must”
    or lose your job.
    is very unfair.
    considering ,otheres thst come into facility dont have to be vaccinated.
    age care is low paid,and now with this mandatory order, age care will be in crisis.
    with staff leaving.

  15. I am an aged care support worker out in the community.
    I will NOT be forced to have the jab. It hasn’t been tested enough and I have rights to refuse it.
    So looks like I will be out of a job that I love in September.
    I know my clients will not be happy loosing me and at the age of 63 it will be hard to find another job.

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