The Australian Services Union is calling on National Disability Insurance Scheme Minister Linda Reynolds to take urgent measures to help disability support workers get their COVID jabs after a union survey revealed only one in five is currently vaccinated.
The union survey of more than a thousand workers in the NSW and ACT disability sector found:
19 per cent were fully vaccinated
25 per cent have had their first dose
36 per cent are not on track to be vaccinated, primarily citing concerns about the potential impact on income, and side effects of the Astra Zeneca vaccine
Australian Services Union NSW & ACT Secretary, Natalie Lang, wrote to Minster Reynolds over the weekend, urging her to:
Make the Pfizer vaccine availability to all disability support workers, and prioritise them in as many locations as possible to mitigate the concerns many have about Astra Zeneca and ensure workers are vaccinated as soon as possible (only three weeks are needed for full vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine).
Provide paid vaccine leave for all disability workers to mitigate the concerns about losing pay
Provide an additional paid leave day for all NDIS workers, including casuals, in recognition of their essential work
"Workers in the disability sector do some of the most important and challenging jobs in this country so the federal government has a responsibility to help them do their jobs safely," Ms Lang said.
"For the workers who indicated they are hesitating on getting vaccinated, the main driver is concern about the potential side effects of the Astra Zeneca vaccine and, frankly, you have to expect that given the mixed messaging we've heard from government this year.
"The other key driver is concern about the impact on pay – workers are worried about taking time out to be vaccinated and they’re worried about not working if they feel sick afterward. These are people who often don’t have any leave entitlements to dip into, and constantly need to assess their day-to-day budgets."
Ms Lang said the union did not support mandatory vaccination measures for workers in the disability sector.
"Just waving a big stick at disability workers would be a lazy approach and it would likely have significant unintended consequences. The last thing we want to do is drive experienced people from this sector," Ms Lang said.
"People who received disability services have the right, under the NDIS, to insist on support workers who have been vaccinated. So there's already that safeguard built into the system.
"Fortunately, we know that with a few straightforward changes, the government could dramatically increase vaccination rates very quickly in the disability sector."