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The federal government was urged two months ago to fund special paid leave to help aged care staff get their vaccinations, but did not do so.
The nursing union says the inaction has contributed to the shockingly low vaccination rates for the nation’s aged care workforce, which have been exposed in the latest Melbourne outbreak.
Federal data released this week suggests just 11% of the aged care workforce has received a first dose, and only 8.74% have been fully vaccinated.
The government’s initial vaccination strategy was for aged care workers to receive their jab while at work, via in-reach teams staffed by private contractors, a strategy that would have ensured ease of access for staff.
But the plan has shifted repeatedly since the rollout began on 22 February.
Aged care workers are now required to source a vaccine wherever they can, just like the general population, meaning they must book in at GPs, state-run clinics, pop-up hubs, or the commonwealth respiratory centres.
Studies show aged care workers are “one of the lowest-paid [groups] in Australia” and often work excessive hours across multiple settings.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation says it has been lobbying the government for two months, well before the May budget, to fund a system of special leave for vaccination.
The ANMF federal secretary, Annie Butler, told the Guardian the government has not acted on the proposal, despite the union raising it with the department repeatedly.
“We will be pursuing an industrial path once we work out the best approach, but politically, we’ll be continuing to try and put pressure on the government to fund employers to provide special leave, most critically for vaccination purposes,” she said.
“The employers are not doing it, there might be the odd one or two that are doing it, though the public health sector is doing it with no problem. Consequently, they’re getting through large numbers of their workforces and getting them vaccinated.”
She said that without special leave, some workers were simply finding it too difficult to get away from work to have the vaccination.
“People just aren’t going to get it, because it’s just too difficult,” Butler said.
“I was told by one member last week that their employer just said ‘OK, it’s your responsibility, you have to go to your GP or whatever … and you make sure you get it on your days off’. When they went to get it, they couldn’t get an appointment for four months.”
A spokesman for industrial relations minister, Michaelia Cash, confirmed that the existing arrangements did not require employers to provide workers with paid leave to get vaccinated.
But the spokesman said “employers can still discuss work adjustments or leave arrangements with their employees to support them getting vaccinated”.
“The Morrison government encourages businesses and unions to work cooperatively with all levels of government to facilitate the vaccine rollout and encourage high levels of take-up among workers, particularly where they work with vulnerable Australians,” he said.
In the rare circumstance where an employer mandates vaccinations for their employees, they are expected to “cover travel costs and if the vaccination appointment is during work hours, allow them to attend the appointment without loss of pay”, the spokesman said.
Workers are generally not able to take paid sick leave to get the vaccination, unless their employment contracts state otherwise.
That leaves them largely dependent on annual leave or unpaid leave. Sick leave can be used for any illness caused by the vaccination.
A number of the aged care awards were amended during the early months of the pandemic to insert paid pandemic leave entitlements for workers who were forced to isolate, quarantine or showed symptoms.
Those entitlements ceased in March.
Butler says the ANMF is exploring whether it can have those entitlements added back into the awards.
“These are preventative measures that could help,” she said.
Cash’s office said applications to vary the awards can be “made by relevant parties at any time”.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Federal government urged months ago to fund paid leave for aged care staff vaccination | Aged care (Australia)