Aged care staff face 'consequences' if they don't meet COVID vaccination deadline

Newcastle Herald, 16 September 2021

AS the aged care workforce scrambles to meet the Federal Government's deadline for a fully vaccinated workforce, unions and aged care facility managers are calling for more support, and more time.

Recent figures reveal that 94.4 per cent of the workforce have received their first dose, which means about 15,000 aged care workers nationally have not met that target, failing the government's mandate that all workers - including volunteers and casuals, have had at least their first dose by Friday, September 17.

Aged care managers say the mandate has already led to resignations in the lead up to Friday's deadline. That means an already under-resourced sector is under more pressure at what is a critical time, say managers, as well as the Health Services Union, and the Australian Council of Trade Unions. 

HSU National President Gerard Hayes said the union has called on the federal government to postpone the deadline. "We fully support vaccination however ... if it's not there, more engagement needs to be done, particularly with people who are hesitant, to resolve their concerns. I don't want to see a workforce crisis and I fear that is where we are heading at the moment."

The fallout of mandate-sparked resignations meant some facilities are increasing shifts from eight hours to 12 hours, he said. "Last month we had 100 people from aged care resign from the union - that means they resigned from the workplace and have left the industry."

Viv Allanson, chief executive of Maroba aged care facility in Waratah, said she had three people "finishing up" on Friday. Otherwise all her staff had received their first dose of vaccine, with only two or three still due for a second shot. Part of the issue was that the federal government was counting volunteers among the unvaccinated, which was skewing the figures.

"I think it's abysmal to make us report on volunteers when no volunteers are coming in anyway, it is ridiculous - we got a call from the government yesterday saying we are concerned about your numbers - we're getting emails every single day from the government ... We know what's got to be done but we can't drag people with a ball and chain to get vaccinated. We're doing all we can."

Barriers include logistics, such as child minding, shift work, and transport, and in one case an 'objector' was making a conscious choice, she said. Initially, 85 of her 189 members of staff had been hesitant about getting vaccinated. "The resourcing to get these people over the line has been horrendous - in a lockdown situation we have had to expend so much effort to get people to reconsider, and walk them through what the consequences are. Some of the barriers I am hearing about across the aged care network is they want more information - I don't know how much more information we can get."

Assistant Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Liam O'Brien, said that while the latest data confirms overwhelmingly that workers across the sector have been willing to get vaccinated, there remained concerns that some parts of the sector will not achieve the 100 per cent by the deadline.

"In a sector that already suffers from significant labour shortages unions are concerned that any loss of workers could compromise the safety for workers and the residents they care for," he said. The government need to ensure an appropriate transition so that quality and safety were not compromised beyond the deadline, he said.

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