IEU Member Update — Vaccination Mandate from the Secretary
17 November 2021
The IEU is accepting of the decision to require all education workers to be vaccinated by December 10th (first jab) based on the current health advice. This will have obvious implications for the employment of members who are not vaccinated and who do not have an approved exemption.
The IEU has not actively advocated for compulsory vaccination or mandates but is accepting of the current mandate as being for the greater social good, properly made and beyond legal challenge.
There is some diversity of opinion regarding the effectiveness and risks of vaccination but we have opted to align with the mainstream scientific consensus that
All vaccines approved for use in Australia substantially reduce the risk that the vaccinated person will be infected with COVID-19.
All vaccines approved for use in Australia substantially reduce the risk that, if the vaccinated person is infected with COVID-19, they will become seriously ill or die.
All vaccines approved for use in Australia substantially reduce the risk that, if the vaccinated person is infected with COVID-19, they will infect someone else.
COVID-19 poses substantial risks to health and safety, and will continue to do so even after it become endemic and vaccination rates are high.
For the IEU, this is consistent with our ongoing position that
As much as personal freedoms and autonomy are important in a democracy, when one person’s freedoms impact on another’s, a decision needs to be made on those competing interests. This is the basis of our social contract.
The advice of people with the formal expertise to make medical recommendations should be relied upon by our elected decision makers.
Neither Unions nor employers have the medical expertise to unilaterally devise COVID responses outside of prevailing health advice.
The IEU has long called for education workers to be given priority in any vaccination program and have advocated for maximising vaccination rates as an essential component to our COVID recovery.
We are not going to enter into debate about medical technical points beyond our expertise. Our expertise lies in the industrial arena.
All workplace participants are owed a safe workplace and that would necessarily involve maximising vaccination rates and ventilation audits.
Legal challenges will be mounted only where members have a sound basis for the infringement of a workplace right.
Calls for the IEU to “stand up for members’ rights” are not as simple as legally challenging each and every member complaint on the grounds of them simply being unwilling to be vaccinated. Court decisions are coming out that public health orders are validly made. Initial arguments around the efficacy of vaccination or on various human rights/autonomy grounds are also failing.
Our advice following recent case outcomes and well-qualified commentaries is that any legal challenge would be futile. It would be irresponsible to waste member resources on doomed legal actions.
Situations where a member with a documented contra-indication was not exempted suitably would, however, be open to challenge. We will stand up for members accessing their workplace rights but the current public health mandate would not appear to breach any existing workplace rights. Freedoms yes, but not legal rights.
Schools have many unique factors which in the interests of the greater good do require some sacrifices of freedoms. Staff and students are at close quarters for extended periods of time and at this stage under-12 year olds cannot be vaccinated. Those who are vaccinated also have expectations of safety at work associating with colleagues who would ideally also be vaccinated.
Many practical issues remain to be determined before the December 10th cut off, but there may need to be some tough decisions made by a minority of members in the coming weeks. For those reluctant to comply for whatever reasons, a decision will need to be made as to where they are to be of the most social benefit. We would encourage everyone to get vaccinated and continue your valuable work in our schools.
Union membership is a package of many layers apart from COVID. Our response to COVID may not please all members but when an issue is this polarised there is no scope for pleasing everyone and a call has to be made.
That we have done after full consideration, leaning, as a collective organisation, to the benefit of the greater good with the collateral employment and school management implications.