The Australian COVID-19 vaccine program commenced in late February 2021. This occurred as an important public health service to reduce the spread and severity of the evolving COVID-19 virus. As an essential service providing support to vulnerable communities, Mercy Connect has actively supported all staff and participants to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations.
Mercy Connect commenced a consultation process with its staff in August 2021 as a first step to making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory in the workplace. This occurred in anticipation of a state-wide Public Health Order mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for people working in the disability sector.
Mercy Connect has engaged with Catholic Employment Relations, the Australian Services Union, Mercy Connect’s Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) Committee and provided opportunities for staff to provide feedback via an online survey and attending virtual Town Hall Meetings. All feedback received from these important stakeholders has been taken into consideration. During this period of consultation, all regions in which Mercy Connect operates have been directly impacted by increased numbers of COVID-19 cases and lockdowns and / or restrictions.
Further, this week, the NSW Government reconfirmed its Reopening NSW roadmap, noting that stay-at-home orders for adults who have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be lifted from the Monday after NSW passes the 70% double vaccination target. Importantly, only fully vaccinated people and those with valid medical exemptions will have access to the freedoms allowed under the Reopening NSW roadmap. Relevant information can be found here: https://www.nsw.gov.au/media-releases/roadmap-to-freedom-unveiled-for-fully-vaccinated and https://www.nsw.gov.au/media-releases/roadmap-to-recovery-reveals-path-forward-for-all-nsw
While feedback from staff and the WHS Committee has been positive in relation to existing controls in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection, given the nature of Mercy Connect’s services and working environment, management has determined that it would be lawful and reasonable to mandate that all Mercy Connect staff receive the COVID-19 vaccination, in line with relevant WHS and Fair Work Australia requirements.
Therefore, from the 1st of October 2021, the Mercy Connect COVID-19 Vaccination Policy will come into effect. All staff will be required to produce evidence of their COVID-19 vaccination or medical exemption status to the People and Culture team e.g. COVID-19 Digital Certificate, Immunisation History Statement.
Please note that this decision has not been taken lightly. This requirement will help Mercy Connect to meet its duty of care to participants, their families / guardians and our staff, in the absence of a Public Health Order mandating vaccinations for all NSW disability staff. Given the nature of the care we provide, and the vulnerability of our many clients, ensuring our staff are vaccinated will provide our participants and their families / guardians with the best possible protection against COVID-19.
All Mercy Connect staff (excluding those with a medical exemption) must receive both doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine before 31 December 2021. Special consideration will be provided on a case-by-case basis for staff who are unable to be vaccinated for health reasons.
Supports are already available to ensure that staff meet these new vaccination requirements, including a contribution of up to $75 towards medical costs for staff seeking vaccination advice, paid leave to attend a vaccination appointment during work hours for full-time employees, and paid leave (up to one (1) day / shift) for anyone experiencing post-vaccination symptoms.
Please find attached a “Frequently Asked Questions” document which provides further details regarding this decision. Two additional Town Hall meetings will be offered next week (6 October 2021 at 9.30am and 3.30pm) through the Microsoft Teams application, where Jessie Arney (Executive Leader – People and Communications) and I will speak directly with all attendees.
Any staff who would like to attend either of these sessions should forward their RSVP to Rosie Busuttil – Rosie.Busuttil@mercyconnect.org.au. A written summary of questions raised by staff (and answers subsequently provided) will be provided afterwards. If anyone cannot attend, please forward your questions to Jessie Arney – Jessie.Arney@mercyconnect.org.au in advance of these sessions.
Together we grow.
Chief Executive Officer