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Today is deadline day for print workers in Victoria, with those classed as authorised workers needing to have at least one Covid vaccination by the end of the day, or a booking for one by next Friday, in order to come into work on Monday, under the state government’s health order.

V-day: Victoria print workers must be vaccinated
V-day: Victoria print workers must be vaccinated

The Victoria state government has told all authorised workers, which includes all manufacturing, such as print, that they must have at least one Covid jab by today, and the second by 26 November, to carry on with their jobs.

Under the Health Order print staff under the authorised worker category who turn up for work on Monday without proof of vaccination are to be refused entry to the site. Because it is a state government mandated order, print bosses will not face any legal action or financial penalties for refusing entry to non-vaccinated staff, in fact they are obligated to do so. The mandate will last for as long as the Health Order is in place.

Victoria state premier Daniel Andrews has been clear in the consequences for the vaccine hesitant, saying those who refuse will not be allowed to go to work, he said, "We want to open the place up. I want to. I’m not taking lectures on freedom from people who will hold all of us back. These mandates, these requirements, push people to do what needs to be done."

There is debate around the definition of authorised worker and essential services, and whether that only includes printers who are only printing for the essential services supply chain, or those who are mostly printing for it, of those who sometimes print for it, or those who don't print for any essential services. Print businesses in Victoria have been operating under the recent lockdown, largely under the manufacturing category, whether or not they have only been printing for the essential services supply chain. Staff of print businesses that have remained open, which is almost all of them, fall under the “all manufacturing” category on the Victoria authorised worker list. 

Walter Kuhn, president of PVCA said, “The decision not to let unvaccinated Victorian print staff into the workplace is not being made by the employers, it is a government health order, and as such must be complied with. The mandate is clear, all staff designated authorised workers on site at print businesses in Victoria now need to be vaccinated to be able to continue to come to work.

Charles Watson, general manager, IR, policy and governance, at TRMC said, "Manufacturing employees, including print staff, are under the authorised worker category, and as such have to confirm with the state public health order, which stipulates they have to be vaccinated. From tomorrow employers are not able to allow unvaccinated staff into the workplace. Unavaccinated staff are no longer authorised workers. Their travel to work permits will also become invalid."

The mandate takes the liability for print business owners that want their staff vaccinated off them, and onto the state government. If the employee has a beef with being barred from the workplace it will need to be taken up with the state government, not the employer, who is following the health order, which is backed by the law. In other states that have not yet mandated vaccination, liability remains with the employer if the business mandates vaccination.

Tim Piper, the Victorian head of employer association Ai Group said, “It is important that all employees and unions recognise that employers have no option other than to comply with the Victorian Government’s public health direction.

“If an employee arrives at work in breach of the public health direction, the employer needs to send the employee home. Employees are not entitled to be paid unless they agree to take any accrued annual leave or long service leave. To be entitled to payment an employee needs to be ‘ready, willing and able’ to work, and unvaccinated employees are not able to work.”

Print businesses in the other states and territories face a complex and evolving situation if they mandate vaccinations in the workplace. So far News Ltd in Chullora, NSW, is the biggest print site to mandate no jab no work. Watson said, "Without a government mandate, as is still the case in the majority of states and territories, any court challenge will be between the employer and the employee."

Victorian teacher Belinda Carter has become the first person to take the Victorian state government to court over its mandatory vaccination policy. The trial before the Supreme Court wll be held on 25 October. Carter will argue it is not legal, or ethical, and takes no account of her human rights.

Print21 understands from talking to printers and print associations that print staff have been getting vaccinated in large numbers, with print bosses doing all they can to encourage staff to get the jab.

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