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Australia is establishing a new normal in the midst of a global pandemic. As a society we’re adjusting to living with COVID-19 and numerous restrictions have been lifted to the relief of many, especially Australians who endured long lockdowns. 

A number of workplaces now require a COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment. Some within the community have raised concerns, calling this a breach of personal liberty. There are even workers who have taken the government to court over the vaccine directive. 

Nearly 90% of Australians aged 16 and over have now had their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Evidently the vast majority of the population recognise the merit of the health advice we’ve been given and see vaccination as a vital path out of this pandemic. However, there is a vocal minority voicing concern with legislation that requires a vaccination as a condition of employment. 

If you work in healthcare, hospitality, transport, education or travel, there’s a high chance you are now required to be vaccinated to remain employed. Many additional private sector organisations are also starting to include worker vaccinations as a condition of employment. 

Is Vaccination Compulsory?

Simon Longstaff wrote a very apt article for The Ethics Centre on this topic, in which he makes an important distinction about ‘compulsory’, ‘optional’ and ‘conditional’ requirements within our liberal democracy. In summary:

Optional requirements are the simplest – there’s no repercussions, regardless of whether or not the individual engages with the requirement.

Conditional requirements are commonplace and include things such as a passport to travel or a licence to drive a car. No person is forced to engage in these activities but if they choose to, then there are certain conditions they need to abide by.

Compulsory requirements are enforced and those that breach them are subject to punishment. There aren’t many compulsory requirements in liberal democracies, but voting and the education of children are two examples of this.

Longstaff highlights that organisations who have a requirement that workers be vaccinated are making it a condition of their employment and if the person doesn’t wish to accept this, they may decide not to work for that particular organisation. 

Why Are Organisations Requiring Workers to be Vaccinated?

Employers are setting COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment because it’s a way of minimising the risk of the disease spreading in the workplace. Under Work Health and Safety laws, employers have a duty to eliminate or if that isn’t possible minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace. 

Essentially, keeping people safe has been deemed more important than employees enjoying the personal freedom to choose against vaccination. It’s important to note that people who have medical reasons for not getting vaccinated are able to be granted an exemption on medical grounds.  

There have been over five million recorded COVID-19 deaths globally since the pandemic began. Mercifully, COVID-19 vaccinations greatly reduce the likelihood of dying from it. There is also a significant decrease in vaccinated people catching and spreading the disease. By making a COVID-19 vaccination a condition of employment, employers are mitigating against the very real threat this disease places on public safety.