The Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union of Australia (CEPU) is urging Telstra to extend its COVID-19 vaccination mandate to include third parties that operate within the telco’s environment.
Telstra announced in September that it would mandate a number of its customer-facing staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-November, covering some 8300 staff across the business.
The timeline was set for employees in New South Wales and Victoria to receive their first dose by 15 October 2021 and the second by 15 November, while the rest of the country would adhere to deadlines of 29 October and 29 November, respectively.
The call comes amid the union's own concerns about the telco's mandate, saying that staff that would potentially be sacked for non-compliance contradicts the government's public health position.
“The union broadly opposes this policy on the basis that it does not align with the Federal Government’s public health position – that the vaccination is free of cost and is voluntary for each Australian,” the union said in its bulletin.
“We believe if mandates are going to be introduced, they should be introduced by government health authorities based on a thorough public health risk analysis.”
The CEPU however encourages all members and Telstra staff to comply with the mandate nonetheless.
The union added that while the mandate covers Telstra employees and partners, it does not cover third parties entering Telstra owned or operated properties, like other telco representatives and customers.
“Given Telstra maintains that this [vaccination mandate] policy is first and foremost in the interests of protecting its workforce, one must ask why the mandate is not also being introduced to all third-parties interacting with the workforce?” the bulletin read.
“We made our position quite clear during consultation, that should Telstra proceed with implementation, it should also implement a requirement for third-parties operating within the Telstra environment to be vaccinated.”
The CEPU said that while consumer customers entering its retail stores require vaccinations where relevant public health orders apply, Telstra refuses to extend the requirement to those third parties.
The union added Telstra staff should also not be required to attend a customer’s premises if the occupants of those premises are not vaccinated.
“These are all environments in which our members work – and Telstra, therefore, has a responsibility to provide a safe working environment.”
Telstra responded to the bulletin in this story dated 15 October 2021.
Concerns on the vaccination mandate
Telstra’s vaccination policy said the COVID-19 vaccine mandate would be “lawful and reasonable” for the following roles, according to legal advice the CEPU received.
- You are required to work in high-risk locations with vulnerable persons or in locations that might lead to COVID-19 outbreaks if infected people come into contact with members of the public (e.g. medical facilities, aged care centres, schools, shopping centres, indigenous communities);
- You are required to attend work (i.e., you cannot work from home) and work in close proximity with other employees or customers;
- Government/health regulations stipulate that you must be vaccinated to enter a location or premises.
Those failing to comply with the mandate would form a valid reason for dismissal according to advice from the Fair Work Ombudsman, as well as based on the agency’s previous decisions for related matters.
The CEPU said it believed the substantial majority of Telstra’s workforce would have been fully vaccinated “with ease” even without a mandate, citing the already high reported vaccination levels and the ongoing incentives offered.
However, it also advocated for those hesitant to receive the vaccine to be given an opportunity to have a genuine discussion with their own doctors about their personal circumstances to enable them to overcome that hesitancy.
“In light of the legal opinion received at this time we must advise members that in instances where an individual’s role aligns with the broad description of the roles captured by the policy, they must comply,” the union said.
“Just as in other circumstances we may not like, or agree with, to advise otherwise would be providing irresponsible advice to members which could put your employment at risk.”