Australian unions reject ‘unacceptable’ proposal allowing employers access to staff vaccination data

Australian unions reject ‘unacceptable’ proposal allowing employers access to staff vaccination data

An industry proposal to allow employers to access vaccination data on their staff has been rejected as “unacceptable” by the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox proposed on Friday a raft of changes to help speed up Australia’s lagging vaccine rollout, including allowing large employers to act as vaccine hubs. Under the plan, employers would be granted indemnity to vaccinate staff, allowing nurses to come in and deliver Covid-19 jabs in a similar way to how flu shots are delivered.

“Large employers in particular are standing by to effectively turn their workplaces into vaccine hubs but many tell me they are worried about potential liabilities if there are adverse reactions and even potential liabilities if they strongly encourage their workers to get vaccinated,” Willox said.

“The federal government currently indemnifies GPs and other commonwealth providers of the vaccine but no indemnity exists for any employers who encourage or mandate Covid vaccinations.”

Willox said employers should have a legal right to collect data on the vaccination status of employees to manage Covid outbreaks, and identify those who may be more at risk, such as those in public-facing roles.

Under the current privacy guidelines from the Australian information commissioner, employers can only collect vaccination information from staff in limited situations, with their consent, and only if it is reasonably necessary unless an exception applies under laws, or public health orders.

While state and federal rules now require people in high-risk sectors, such as aged care, and hotel quarantine or transport workers to be vaccinated, Ai Group believes there will be other areas where proof of vaccination will be needed, such as roles involving contact with vulnerable people.

While the ACTU has welcomed the idea of a workplace vaccination program to increase the take up in Australia, ACTU secretary Sally McManus said vaccination information should not be made available to employers where there is no public health order requiring it.

“Employers should not be able to undermine the federal government’s ability to dictate the order of priority for vaccine access, and handing over worker’s confidential data to employers in situations where there is no relevant public health order is unacceptable,” she said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the office of the Australian information commissioner said any such proposals would require careful consideration, and a privacy impact assessment should be undertaken.

“The OAIC strongly recommends that privacy impact assessments (PIAs) are undertaken for any high privacy risk projects, such as those involving sensitive health information, to inform whether a proposal should proceed,” the spokesperson said. “A PIA is a systematic assessment of a project which can assist in identifying potential privacy impacts and ways to manage, minimise or eliminate those impacts.”

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, announced Australia would reach 8m doses of vaccine administered on Friday, with 30% of the over 16 population having at least their first dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines.

As part of the national cabinet “new deal” to chart a pathway out of the Covid-19 pandemic, Morrison said all Australians should have access to a vaccine by the end of 2021, and the Medicare vaccination certification, which is already automatically generated for every vaccination registered on the Australian Immunisation Register, will be recognised and adopted across the country.