From the outset, it must be said that the Townsville Chamber of Commerce has echoed members concerns about the possibility of regional restrictions if high vaccination levels are not reached. This would affect business confidence and create uncertainty. The Chamber has promoted and distributed information and provided feedback to Local, State and Federal Governments about ways the vaccination rates could be increased in our regions.
However, the announcement on Tuesday to mandate vaccinations for just one sector of the economy has sent shock waves through the business community. It must be made very clear that there are instant unintended consequences when targeting just one industry, including perceived prejudices and discrimination. The hospitality sector is broad, although we may think of hospitality workers as waiters and hotel check-in staff serving high volumes of people, this sector also employs maintenance workers, groundskeepers, cleaners, mechanics, refrigeration specialists, marketing managers, accountants, sales staff, and the list goes on and on.
Chamber has fielded multiple phone calls from hospitality business owners this week who are losing their most valuable asset – their staff. All at a time when all industries are already facing staff shortages. Following the announcement, we are already seeing hospitality workers move to other sectors where there is no vaccination mandate. However, for hospitality workers to be fully vaccinated in time for the 17th of December deadline, people had to be vaccinated TODAY. As a direct result of the announcement this week, the hospitality industry is going to find staffing their business even harder for the busy Christmas trading period.
The other major issue that Chamber has been highlighting to the Queensland State Government this week is that the mandate announced on Tuesday will not be supported by legislation until the 17th of December. This creates a major minefield for businesses as they grapple with providing a safe workplace under Fairwork legislation but do not have the support of legislation to force staff to be vaccinated, leaving them open to discrimination claims. We understand that the legislation exists; however, it won’t be activated until the 17th of December, leaving businesses in a no-win situation and vulnerable to the uncertainty of what the directive may require when activated.
Vaccination is the responsibility of the individual. Businesses are not law enforcement officers, and we can not expect them to enforce mandates that are not legislated. Unfortunately, targeting one sector has had a devastating effect this week.
We are all in this together, so let’s work together and not make doing business even more difficult.