Allowing unvaccinated workers on farms in Victoria could result in fines of $ 100,000 as the state government maintains plans to make vaccinations mandatory for all authorized workers.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare has confirmed that farm workers and contractors must receive their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by Friday in order to continue working.
According to instructions from the Chief Health Officer, workers and contractors must be fully vaccinated by November 26 if they wish to continue working on the properties.
Individuals can be fined up to $ 21,808 and corporations $ 109,044 for allowing unvaccinated workers or contractors on their farms.
Employers are responsible for following vaccination requirements set out in the instructions and are required to collect, record, and retain vaccination information for all workers who go on-site.
The instructions also state that they must deny entry to the property to any worker who does not meet these requirements.
But the government has yet to fully clarify how and by whom the instructions will be enforced.
Victorian Farmers Federation President Emma Germano said the regulations had serious privacy implications that could result from providing information to the wrong agency or a third party.
“We want very clear instructions as to who can ask us for this information on our farm,” said Ms. Germano.
AUSVEG VIC, Fruit Growers Victoria, Food & Fiber Gippsland, GrainGrowers, Citrus Australia and Melons Australia have joined the VFF to ask for more clarity on the instructions.
Ms. Germano said Agriculture Victoria had notified VFF that the regulations would be enforced by “authorized officers” under the Health and Health Act.
“When I said who they are, we were literally told, ‘They are in black uniform,'” she said.
“Who are these people?
“How do you ask for the information and what time frame do you need to provide it?
“We still encourage people to get vaccinated – the questions we raise are not against vaccination.”
She said a section of the law allows exemptions for “urgent and essential asset maintenance”.
“Is there a benefit in feeding cows when only unvaccinated personnel can do this job?” She asked?
“This is a very forceful approach to getting vaccinations, but it’s a very blunt tool that causes a lot of anxiety.”
This is a very forceful approach to getting vaccinations up, but it’s a very blunt tool that causes a lot of anxiety.
Buffalo, Vic, dairy farmer Peter Young said he would not ask his staff to get vaccinated, nor would he check the status of those who came to the property.
“Will I stand at the gate and say you can only come if you have been vaccinated?” said Mr. Young.
“It goes against everything I believe in – we’ve never prescribed another vaccine, so why now?
“Once it starts, it doesn’t stop – where does it end?”
He said he believed this was against the Data Protection and Dismissal Protection Act.
“If one of my workers is vaccinated, it’s up to them; if not, it’s up to them,” he said.
Benalla, Vic, scissors entrepreneur Nick Van Elk, owner of NK Shearing, Benalla said neither he nor any of his 30 employees wanted to be vaccinated.
He said the 15 clippers and 15 stable workers would now go to NSW where there were no restrictions.
“They won’t work (in Victoria) because they don’t want the needle.”
He said he supports his employees – “I think it’s every individual’s personal choice”.
“All farmers in this area, around Benalla, Wangatta, Luffy, Strathbogie, Euroa will not have their sheep sheared,” he said.
He said he didn’t want to be vaccinated either.
“If I send them to a farm, I’ll be fined for having unvaccinated workers – but I thought Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was a personal choice.”
He said he was told that the authorities would use information from the Australian Tax Office to enforce the instructions.
“You’ll find you with the click of a button to create your pay slips.”
Meanwhile, leading agribusinesses say they are proactively protecting their employees and farmers.
Justin Ryan, director of the supply chain for Fonterra Australia, said the company will not send unvaccinated personnel on farms.
“Since the vaccine became available, we have strongly encouraged our employees to get vaccinated and we are committed to taking every step to protect our employees and the communities in which we serve,” said Ryan.
A spokeswoman for Bega Cheese Limited said she would follow instructions for all Bega employees who should work outside of their habitual residence on or after the relevant date within the instructions.
“Bega expects all suppliers in Victoria to adhere to the specifications,” said the spokeswoman.
“Employers of workers are required to collect, record and retain vaccination information about any person they employ or employ, or relevant information about booking vaccinations or information about vaccination exemptions in accordance with the instructions.”
Burra chief Stewart Carson said unvaccinated employees would be fired on October 16 without pay.
“We have been very focused on our people over the past two years,” said Carson.
“Everyone at our locations did a fantastic job complying with everything from cleanliness and face masks, segregation and work bubbles to contract tracking sheets.
“We have told our employees that if you decide not to have a vaccination, that is your decision, there is no way we can force you to do it.”
“However, you will be dropped off on the 16th without payment.
“We’re not firing our employees, we’re just saying that they will be deposed.”
No formal decision has been made to require vaccinations.
“If we get there in December and everything opens again, maybe these people can go back to work,” he said.
Riordan’s Grain CEO Jim Riordan said 100 percent of the company’s employees have been vaccinated.
“The rules are very clear for companies and employees who have worked through COVID largely without interruption.
“Starting October 15, all employees and contractors, as well as anyone entering into RGS businesses, must be vaccinated in accordance with government health recommendations.”
Ash Fraser, president of VFF Grains Group, said farmers already had a labor shortage.
“You have a header sitting there with no driver, are you going to turn away a potential worker?” Said Mr. Fraser.
“It puts farmers in a vulnerable position.”
Agriculture was the only job in which people could distance themselves socially without any problems.
“The driver could come to the farm and load his truck from the mother’s bucket,” he said.
“What can mean is that the driver stays in his truck, which is being loaded by someone on the farm.
“By sticking to it, it’s only going to force people to fail – we don’t want to be non-compliant, but you are forcing things this far.”
Shepparton, Vic, fruit farmer Peter Hall said he had no authority to ask anyone else for his or her medical records.
It also placed an additional burden on the establishments that had to track and demonstrate compliance.
“The schedule seems badly thought out to me,” said Hall.
“There seems to be a lack of understanding of the challenges agriculture is facing.
“Let’s have some common sense, we already have a work problem and that is putting more pressure on us.”
From a management point of view, it put farmers in a “really uncomfortable position”.
“We become the cops for government orders – this is not something farmers warm to.”
The government should take responsibility for establishing its own review procedures or assessments.
“It’s just another cost, burden and distraction in a really difficult year to put it back on farmers.”
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The story of the Victorian “no vax” period that was looming first appeared on Stock & Land.