VFF wants urgent virus vax clarity

VFF seeks urgent vaccination clarification

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COMMON SENSE: United Dairyfarmers of Victoria president Paul Mumford has called for a common sense approach to the vaccine rollout in the agricultural sector.

COMMON SENSE: United Dairyfarmers of Victoria president Paul Mumford has called for a common sense approach to the vaccine rollout in the agricultural sector.

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VFF says its still waiting for clarification on mandatory vaccinations for the agricultural sector.

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The Victorian Farmers Federation says the government must urgently clarify the legalities around mandating vaccines for agricultural workers.

The state government last week announced its intention to introduce mandatory vaccinations for all farmers and agricultural workers.

VFF president Emma Germano said she first met with the Department of Health and Human Services, Agriculture Victoria, meat and seafood processors and unions on Saturday, the day after the announcement.

"To my knowledge, there is no data in Australia that shows there is transmission on farms, and therefore we are concerned that our industry is unique from that perspective," Ms Germano said.

"I raised concerns around the legalities of standing down staff, because we have seen the Fair Work Commission is not consistent.

"Unfair dismissals might stand up, and that's going to put a lot of pressure on businesses - not the government - who have to go through that."

Read more: Coronavirus is here to stay, say farmers

In Melbourne and regional Victoria, everyone on an Authorised Worker list who cannot work at home will require their first COVID-19 vaccine dose by Friday, October 15.

The government has deemed those working in the agricultural sector 'authorised workers', and they will have to be fully vaccinated by November 26.

Activities include:

  • farming activities and other operations relating to agriculture, horticulture, viticulture, irrigation, permaculture, apiculture, grains, fibre production, dairy, flower industry, commercial fishing, aquaculture and livestock; or
  • intensive agricultural production; or
  • agricultural, veterinary chemicals and vaccine production, transportation and distribution; or
  • laboratory and diagnostic services; or
  • animal feed production, transportation, packaging, sale, and feeding

Ms Germano said mandating vaccines could only exacerbate the worker shortages already facing the industry.

It might act as a disincentive to workers currently in other states coming to Victoria.

She said the VFF was not anti-vaccination.

"We asked right from the top of the federal roll out to be included as essential workers in the second phase," she said.

"The irony of all this is we had to fight to be on the essential workers list, to start with.

"We need more time and we don't believe mandatory vaccinations are the way to go, for our industry," she said.

Businesses should not be forced to police the policy.

"Do we have the capacity to do that?

"Is it reasonable, and where does the responsibility lie? The legalities of this are so unclear.

"It's a huge impost on all businesses, but particularly farming businesses, to police this on behalf of the government."

VFF livestock group president Steve Harrison said there were still a lot of unanswered questions on the vaccination policy.

He said on a recent webinar, producers had raised several concerns.

"One woolgrower has two anti-vaxxers working for him and he is concerned about his obligations," Mr Harrison said.

He said the main issue revolved around suggestions farmers would be responsible if contractors, who came onto their properties, were unvaccinated.

'We deem that to be unfair because we pay a fee for service, but under WorkSafe rules it's deemed that the farmer is responsible."

Mr Harrison said the industry needed more time and a way forward for people who had chosen not to get vaccinated.

United Dairyfarmers of Victoria president Paul Mumford said a commonsense approach was needed.

"I understand the importance of vaccinations and I encourage everyone to do their due diligence and get vaccinated if they so wish," Mr Mumford said.

"We have also got to recognise there are people who can't get vaccinated or are unwilling to do so.

"That's their personal choice, so commonsense must prevail."

It was disappointing answers were not forthcoming from the government.

Farmers were taking a commonsense approach by implementing personal hygiene and social distancing.

Mr Mumford said he had one young staff member who had not been vaccinated, as he initially wasn't eligible.

"He took it on himself, two weeks ago, to schedule to an appointment, but the first available appointment was October 26."

"He's been proactive, but has been caught out in the bureaucracy and the slow delivery of the rollout."

Bullaharre dairy farmer Craig Dwyer said anyone else's vaccination status was none of his business.

"My status, in their eyes, should be seen in the same way - I am just not happy to declare my position to anyone else," Mr Dwyer said.

He said he was not an anti-vaxxer.

"It is not my business, and not my job, to determine whether they can or cannot do their job, according to their vax status

"I see it as unenforceable, to be honest.

"I really don't care what choice any individual makes... I'm not going to ask... and don't expect to be asked either."

A government spokeswoman said restrictions were the primary weapon in limiting movement and slowing the spread of the virus.

"Now, with supply of the vaccine finally becoming widely available, we are able to protect all workers who aren't able to do their essential work from home and protect the roadmap to reopening."

"On the advice of our public health team, all workers - in Melbourne and regional Victoria - on the Authorised Worker list will require their first COVID-19 vaccine dose by Friday October 15 in order to continue working onsite.

"They will need to be fully vaccinated by 26 November."

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