Worker concerns over SPC mandatory vaccination plan

Worker concerns over SPC mandatory vaccination plan

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MANDATORY VACCINES: SPC is the first Australian company to move to mandatory vaccines for its staff.

MANDATORY VACCINES: SPC is the first Australian company to move to mandatory vaccines for its staff.

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Shepparton-based fruit and vegetable processor SPC will be the first Australian company to introduce mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for all its staff.

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The union representing workers at Shepparton's SPC fruit and vegetable processing plant says it may mount a legal challenge to the company's introduction of mandatory coronavirus vaccinations.

Shepparton-based fruit and vegetable processor SPC will be the first Australian company to introduce mandatory vaccinations for all its staff.

Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union National Food and Confectionary Industry Victorian assistant state secretary Jason Hefford said the company failed to consult with workers properly, before making the announcement.

"Our concern is they have to sit down with us and consult with us properly," Mr Hefford said.

"You have got to remember food factories have been classified as having essential workers and we have been working with companies to do COVID safe plans for 18 months now.

"Workers are very anxious and you would almost say angry they haven't been consulted."

While SPC said it would come back to workers, the company had failed to consult on the enterprise bargaining agreement and Occupational Health and Safety Act.

"They reckon they are going to come and speak to workers, but it's a bit like the horse has bolted and the gate's been left wide open," Mr Hefford said.

He said workers wanted to have an option, around vaccination.

"The security guy had 70 abusive phone calls - we could have avoided all this, by consulting properly," Mr Hefford said.

"Workers want to have more information and want to know what their legal rights are, if they refuse to have the vaccine."

He predicted a "lawyers breakfast" around the legality of mandatory vaccinations.

"People asked if we take it down the legal road, then it's a lawyers breakfast - but if we have to take it down that way we will," he said

"We don't want to, we would prefer to consult."

Delta impact

SPC chief executive Robert Giles said the decision was driven by the impact of the Delta variant.

The company says it wants wants its 450 employees to have proof of an appointment to get the vaccine by September 15, to have their first jab by the end of October and the second by the end of November.

"If the vaccine is not available, that's nothing they have done and we will just have to work with that," Mr Giles said.

"We have obviously tried to give them pre-warning, to plan around getting it.

"We will give them time off at the company's expense and they will get special leave, if they have an adverse reaction, to recover."

Mr Giles said because the Doherty Institute had mapped a pathway out of the coronavirus pandemic, food businesses needed to "step up now and take leadership".

"We are encouraging other manufacturers to do that as well," he said.

He hoped SPC would not be seen as a test-case and the company would work through issues raised by its employees.

"If they are unsure, we are absolutely recommending they speak to their GP's and take their advice," he said.

"We will give them a fair and reasonable time line for that to happen."

Mr Giles said there was "room for the conversation" about the vaccination

The company would engage with objectors on the basis for their reasoning.

"We will be reasonable and practical, but if it's just to say 'no' our first objective it to keep a safe workforce and keep production going."

Worker concerns

Mr Hefford questioned who would be liable, in the case of serious complications, or death, as a result of being vaccinated.

"At the moment, the only people with indemnity are the mass vaccination centres and GP's - (the government) hasn't come out and said companies are not liable," he said.

"Are we just going down to the Shepparton centre and get done, are they coming on site, how's it going to be rolled out?

"There are a lot of questions to be answered."

He said he was also concerned as to what would happen to workers who were immuno-compromised.

"What if someone has been told to wait, until there are more trials done, before they can have the vaccine? Mr Hefford said.

"Will they then be forced to sit at home, and not work, and SPC is going to pay them?"

Nicholls Federal MP Damian Drum said it was a courageous decision and one that set the tone for corporate Australia, particularly in light of the threat the Delta variant poses to families, communities and business.

"SPC's decision is based on overwhelming scientific evidence, and I certainly share the opinion that the benefits of being vaccinated far outweigh any potential side effects," Mr Drum said.

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