Essential freight drivers must get priority Covid jab

The transport industry was awash with speculation about jurisdictions mandating Covid vaccinations for interstate truck drivers, with Queensland and New South Wales setting notional deadlines for freight workers to get a first jab as condition of entry.

South Australia abandoned a planned deadline of September 24 and the Victorian Transport Association got on the front foot to outline certain conditions the Victorian Government should meet were it ever to mandate Covid vaccinations for linehaul freight workers.

In the absence of any national law requiring vaccination, drivers may soon have to prove to state and territory officials they have been jabbed before crossing borders.

The speculation has been useful in that it stimulates discussion about how transport workers should be supported to get vaccinated, notwithstanding how our industry has kept fragile supply chains working in the face of arguably the greatest consumer demand Australia has ever faced. 

Our industry has carried millions of tonnes of goods over millions of kilometres within Australia since March 2020 and have maintained our disciplines to ensure we comply with every directive. 

We’ve achieved this despite some of the most confused, onerous, and personally intrusive requirements of any industry. 

We’ve kept our social licence to keep working despite these rapidly changing roadblocks, with transmission events from transport able to be counted on one hand.

Just as we’ve responded to every other sudden new requirement to work, our industry will comply as best we can with any new requirements

Were vaccinations to be mandated in Victoria, our state government must help, whilst also recognising our industry’s herculean effort to keep supply chains open with concessions for vaccinated drivers. 

Transport workers will do their very best to ensure the supply chains remain open. But the Government must support a mobile workforce that is busier than ever to get vaccinated by:

Making it easy for transport workers to get vaccinated – bring the vaccine to drivers at pop-up vaccination sites at established testing centres, truck rest stops, depots and locations drivers visit whilst carrying out their work;

Prioritising interstate drivers for vaccination – as an industry we have refrained from requesting early access to vaccination. However, if the government is going to mandate vaccinations for drivers, they must be prioritised;

Rewarding vaccinated drivers with less frequent testing – the requirement that drivers entering Victoria have a negative Covid test at least every three days is unnecessary for vaccinated drivers;

Designating the road transport industry as an Essential Service in a State of Emergency – transport workers have been doing essential work for over 18 months, yet the industry is not recognised as an Essential Service; and

Implement what it agreed at national cabinet – the Freight Movement Protocol agreed to by every state and territory jurisdiction provides a uniform set of conditions for the transport industry to support national supply chains. 

It is incumbent on any government that requires certain workers to be vaccinated to make it is easy as possible for them to do so. This is especially important for interstate freight workers, without whom our supply chains would collapse.

Regardless of whether vaccination is mandated, it is welcome news that the Commonwealth has announced Australians who suffer injury and loss of income due to adverse 19 vaccine reactions may be able to claim for the costs through a nation-wide scheme. 

Businesses involved in the administration of vaccines may also be indemnified against injury and loss of income should one of their employees be injured. 

Market forces will ultimately dictate who is required to provide evidence of a vaccination, with both operators and their customers making this a condition of employment and doing business. 

Having a scheme that compensates for loss means businesses can confidently offer a marketplace vaccination program for their workers – much like they already do with flu shots – without having to foot the bill should someone fall ill.

With a need for many members to focus on high rates of vaccination within their workplace to meet customer requirements and state border restrictions, the timing of this scheme is especially welcome.

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