Leading agriculture advocacy groups are calling on the Victorian government to urgently clarify the confusion around unfair dismissal, privacy rights and employer and employee obligations ahead of the looming mandatory vaccine deadline.
Broad-reaching mandatory vaccination requirement for workers, including those in the agricultural sector, come into force under the COVID-19 Mandatory Vaccination (Workers) Directions from Friday.
The Department of Health has confirmed everyone on the list will require a first COVID-19 vaccination dose by Friday in order to keep working onsite.
Workers will need to be fully vaccinated by 26 November and employers who allow unvaccinated people onsite to work can be fined up to $109,044.
Now the Victorian Farmers Federation has been joined by AUSVEG VIC, Fruit Growers Victoria, Food & Fibre Gippsland, GrainGrowers, Citrus Australia and Melons Australia in calling for greater clarity around the directions.
Whilst recent briefings between industry representatives and Agriculture Victoria had been constructive, there remained crucial missing information on the vaccine mandate, VFF president Emma Germano said.
"Industry representatives from across Victorian agriculture are calling for clarity, and we need it now," Ms Germano said.
"We're only days away from the vaccine mandate coming into force and many of our basic questions seem to have been placed in the too hard basket.
"Industry groups have been talking to farmers non-stop since the announcement was made and all of us just want to be able to pass on accurate information and support our growers in a timely manner."
The VFF was clear on its support of measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the community, however an alarming sense of confusion within the agriculture industry ahead of the mandatory vaccine deadline was creating "huge angst".
Questions raised by agricultural industry representatives included whether employers be "left in the lurch" about whether their workers could, or could not, work.
"Are employers going to be at risk under industrial relations laws?," Ms Germano said.
"How do we avoid breaches of worker's privacy and who can request this personal information of vaccination status?"
The VFF was also seeking urgent clarity on the types of exorbitant penalties and exactly who could issue them.
"It's well known the agriculture industry is currently facing severe labour shortages. Are we staring down the barrel of further reducing our already dwindling workforce?"
"In parts of Victoria harvest is here and this is the busiest time of the year. Our farmers' job is to help put food on the table and the less workers we have to do this, the harder this becomes."
"The Victorian Government must publicly release further information and they need to do it immediately" said Ms Germano.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said getting vaccinated helped to protect people who can't work from home and would ensure Victoria could re-open with the roadmap.
"We encourage employers to support their staff to get fully vaccinated - the earlier people get vaccinated, the earlier we can open up," the spokeswoman said.
Employers are responsible for complying with vaccination requirements set out in the CHO directions and must collect, record and hold vaccination information for any worker going on-site for work.
Employers must not permit a worker who doesn't meet these requirements to work on-site.
Penalties will apply to employers if unvaccinated workers are working on-site after the required dates for vaccination.