It’s hard to keep up with countless different rules and advice across states, with COVID-19 vaccine mandates the latest basket ball.
State governments are increasingly introducing rules for the labor force in rural areas, which are temporary in nature.
So what are the different rules?
From today, vaccinations will be imposed on vaccines in Victoria for all “authorized workers”, including farmers, farm workers and more.
Workers must have at least one dose to stay on the job and be double-dosed by 26 November.
NSW has taken a completely different approach and has said it will not provide mandates for vaccines for the agricultural sector, which include farms, slaughterhouses and sales yards.
However, if these workers want to get a cup of coffee on smoko or a beer after work, they need to be vaccinated.
The Northern Territory follows in Victoria’s footsteps, albeit a month behind. A number of workers must have their first plug by 12 November, including workers in mining areas, food processing and slaughterhouses.
Similarly, in Western Australia, resource workers, workers in remote operations or work in rural and remote locations must be fully vaccinated by 1 January.
Queensland is considering introducing mandates for the mining sector, but this has not yet been done. But it is a step the industry says it will support.
Tasmania and South Australia have not yet introduced mandates other than health professionals.
Truck drivers must be vaccinated to enter Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, WA and NT, although different rules apply depending on where the truck is coming from and the date it takes effect.
Whose task is it to control?
In most cases, it will be up to employers to ensure that their workers are vaccinated and keep a record of heavy fines threatened in some places if they do not.
In Victoria, the mandate has come under heavy criticism from the Victorian Farmers Federation, which says it is a burden for employers who are already dealing with severe labor shortages.
“In parts of Victoria, the harvest is here and it’s the busiest time of the year. Our farmers’ job is to help put food on the table, and the fewer workers we have to do this, the harder it gets,” says VFF Chairman Says Emma Germano.
Some employers do it alone and insist on their own vaccine mandates, including food processor SPC and mining giant BHP.
Others have taken the carrot rather than the stick method, like Fletcher’s International, which voluntarily closed its slaughterhouse in Dubbo for a week and spent time getting workers vaccinated.
What about international workers?
The agricultural sector is heavily dependent on a migrant workforce, including an estimated 75,000 undocumented workers, and some have difficulty proving they have been vaccinated.
Corey Iredale, of the Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council, says about 1,800 seasonal workers in northwestern Victoria have been vaccinated but are having trouble accessing their vaccination certificate through MyGov.
“If they do not have a Medicare card, we must first instruct them to obtain an Individual Healthcare Identifier, IHI, but it is a separate government department, it is Services Australia,” says Iredale.
What happens if there is a positive case?
As the harvest begins around the country, there are fears that any outbreaks that result in a shutdown could have serious consequences.
As the country opens up, it is unclear who will be quarantined and when, and will – like almost everything COVID-related – be up to the states.
As the cherry harvest is about to start in southern NSW, clarity about vaccine mandates has been welcomed by the President of Cherry Growers Australia, Tom Eastlake.
“Our encouragement is that all horticulture should go and be vaccinated,” Eastlake said.
“But if we have people that we have to reject at the moment, about 10 percent of the population … it can make a very big difference when you have to remove that crop.”
The window “goldilocks” for picking cherries can be as short as a few days, and because it is such a time-sensitive crop, the industry also seeks to quickly get an answer to what happens if an orchard registers a positive case.
“Does everyone go back in the lockdown for 14 days?” Asks Eastlake.
“We earn 100 percent of our business during that period of four to eight weeks at the end of the year, so if we miss a week that has serious consequences that affect our entire livelihood.”
As always, check with your local health care provider.
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