Qantas will require all of its employees to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, as the debate about mandatory vaccination in Australian workplaces intensifies.
By 15 November, all frontline employees, including cabin crew, pilots, and airport workers, will need to be fully vaccinated. All remaining employees will have until 31 March 2022 to get vaccinated.
The vaccine mandate applies to all employees of Qantas and its low-cost carrier Jetstar.
The airline said there would be exemptions for employees who are unable to be vaccinated for documented medical reasons but said it expected this cohort to be “very rare”.
Qantas Group’s chief executive, Alan Joyce, told reporters vaccination is a requirement “for all our aviation and office workers” but those with medical exemptions will be accommodated with measures including social distancing, masks, and testing.
“If other employees decided they’re not taking the jab, then they’re deciding that aviation isn’t the area for them,” Joyce said, confirming their employment will be terminated.
Joyce, who has previously announced vaccine passports will be a requirement for passengers when Qantas resumes international travel flights, said that “no decision has been made” about requiring domestic passengers to be vaccinated.
“We know that a lot of organisations out there are looking at the requirement, like sporting events and restaurants in Australia, and we could see around the rest of the world this is starting to become a requirement.”
Joyce noted that Western Australia and Queensland had announced plans to require vaccination for entry.
The vaccination policy was announced after Qantas surveyed 12,000 employees – about 60% of its Australian-based workforce. The consultation found that 89% had already been vaccinated or planned to be and that about 75% of staff said they thought mandatory vaccines should be a requirement.
About 4% of the airline’s staff were unwilling or unable to get vaccinated for Covid-19.
A separate survey of 1,000 Qantas customers found that 92% expected their crew to be fully vaccinated.
In a statement, Joyce said: “Having a fully vaccinated workforce will safeguard our people against the virus but also protect our customers and the communities we fly to.
“One crew member can fly into multiple cities and come into contact with thousands of people in a single day. Making sure they are vaccinated given the potential of this virus to spread is so important and I think it’s the kind of safety leadership people would expect from us.”
“It’s clear that vaccinations are the only way to end the cycle of lockdowns and border closures.”
At the press conference, Joyce revealed Qantas had asked for vaccination to be made mandatory across the aviation industry, but the federal government had left public health orders to each state.
Scott Morrison has ruled out further public health orders to compel workers to get vaccinated, saying it would amount to a mandatory vaccination program “by stealth”.
At the beginning of August Qantas stood down a further 2,500 domestic staff, on top of the 6,000 international staff in the same position.
On Wednesday Joyce said vaccinations were needed to ensure workers could return to their jobs, and this point had been touched on by staff in the survey.
“Even with thousands of our people stood down [support for mandatory vaccinations] shows just how important this is for them.
“Many of our people said they would feel concerned about working with unvaccinated colleagues, which is something that many workplaces across the country are grappling with.
“We understand there will be a very small number of people who decide not to get the vaccine, and that’s their right, but it’s our responsibility to provide the safest possible environment for our employees and for our customers.”
A day before Qantas stood down staff in August, the Morrison government unveiled a $100m program to help domestic airlines retain their staff through lockdowns and border closures – a $750-a-week payment for half of their aircrew workforce if they can show a 30% downturn in business since Sydney was declared a national hotspot.
Qantas’s move follows the canned fruit producer SPC announcing this month it would mandate vaccines for its workers. There were reports of threats against the company in the aftermath.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has warned that offering incentives for workers to be vaccinated could open employers to compensation claims for any adverse reactions.
By Joe Cusmano