On Wednesday 24 November, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE)/Environment Protection Authority (EPA) provided its COVID-19 Vaccine Policy to the PSA and other unions as part of its consultation obligations. As part of that process, the PSA is seeking commentary from our members to formulate our response.
This was consistent with the requirements set down by the NSW Government and part of agreements between the PSA and DPIE/EPA on when/if the issue of mandating vaccination was to be entertained.
The PSA notes, without a Public Health Order that directs staff to undertake compulsory vaccination, DPIE/EPA is appropriately following the mechanisms to determine the risk of exposure at work to COVID-19. This is to develop an evidence-based strategy on the provision of public services and whether compulsory vaccination is a requirement to administer those public services.
What are we weighing up here?
DPIE/EPA has an obligation to administer a safe workplace under harmonised Work, Health & Safety laws. DPIE/EPA is seeking a to mitigate or eliminate the prospect of COVID-19 transmission of staff either through workplaces or stakeholder engagement.
There are a number of strategies already in use by DPIE/EPA, with the option of mandatory vaccination being one of many options. The risk assessment is designed to determine whether there are other satisfactory mechanisms available to DPIE/EPA to eliminate or mitigate any COVID-19 exposure risks with vaccination simply being one option.
Medical exemptions and contraindications
There are some circumstances whereby staff with have genuine medical conditions that will preclude them from currently undertaking COVID-19 vaccinations. These exemptions are subject to several medical factors and should come from consultation with members’ treating medical professionals.
What are the categories already identified and where do DPIE staff fit?
There are four categories that have been identified as to the risk of exposure and vaccine mandating that relate to the severity of potential COVID-19 exposure.
- COVID-19 quarantine or functions directly related to quarantine
- Working with Vulnerable People including aged care and hospital admissions
- The requirement of staff to administer face-to-face work with the public or stakeholders or in offices
- Staff who can administer their work remotely or from home.
The risk assessments indicate that staff fall into the later categories dependent on the classification of work. Accordingly, it is clear that there is not a “one size fits all” approach that should be entertained by DPIE/EPA. However, it is important to understand that there is no entitlement that the PSA could seek to enforce for individuals to solely work from home, despite many staff doing so for some 18 months now.
Where does the PSA sit on this?
Every day the PSA strives for the administration of safety and productive working environments for our members. The PSA has always maintained that our members should be cognisant and follow NSW Public Health Orders. It is some of our PSA members in the Department of NSW Health who are providing the science-based applications designed to keep our communities safe.
As previously explained, the PSA believes all members should make informed decisions about vaccination. This should be done through consultation with your treating health professionals, if you have not already done so.
Staff objections should be properly understood, and dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Production and collection of evidence of vaccination status
If DPIE/EPA staff are required to be vaccinated as a result of a lawful and reasonable direction, DPIE/EPA is entitled to request the employee to provide evidence of their vaccination status.
DPIE must comply with the Privacy & Personal Information Protection Act 1988 and the Health Records & Information Privacy Act 2002. The Health Privacy Principles provide understanding that the Department must not collect health information unless the information is collected for a lawful purpose that is directly related to a function or activity of DPIE and the collection of information is necessary for that purpose.