Unions support vaccination to keep workers safe

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This pandemic has been incredibly tough on all Victorian workers. But we can be proud of the way we are working together to keep our workplaces and our communities safe.

If you go on a construction site, you need a hard hat.

Hard hats and hi-vis are already worn in the construction industry. Credit:

If you work in the rail corridor, you need hi-vis.

If you work in food manufacturing, you need a hairnet and gloves.

Whether it’s to protect yourself, your workmates, or your customers or clients, Victorian workers are pretty familiar with the concept of donning personal protective equipment for safety.

Since the onset of the pandemic, many of us have come to sympathise with the workers in medical settings who wear surgical masks all day long. We’ve even adopted new behaviours, like scanning in via a QR code at work.

And, as at the time of writing, more than two million Victorians have rolled up their sleeves to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Some workers, and some unionists, have their hesitations about getting the COVID vaccine. I get that.

But COVID-19 is a serious health risk to Victorian workplaces, and we have a responsibility as a movement to encourage our members to do whatever keeps you and your co-workers safe.

The vaccine is safe. The vaccine massively reduces the risk that you’ll become seriously unwell from COVID-19. The vaccine is available to you for free.

Construction workers protest in the city on Tuesday.Credit:Eddie Jim

You may personally disagree with our decision to encourage members to get vaccinated – that’s OK.

You can choose not to get vaccinated – but as unionists we think that should be an informed choice. So we are going to keep empowering our members with accurate, scientifically established information – and warning them away from misinformation spread online.

People will make their own choices – but that choice may have consequences for how you get to interact with society at work or at play.

For a long time, getting certain vaccinations has been a requirement in some jobs. This is no different. Throughout this pandemic we have followed the advice of the Chief Health Officer and the public health team, and the work those officials are doing is in the public interest.

Our hospital staff are likely to be put under extreme stress as Melbourne opens up.Credit:Penny Stephens

You can make your own choice about vaccination, but you don’t get to put your workplace and your workmates at risk.

We’re also standing in solidarity with the thousands of frontline workers who have been at greatest risk over the past 18 months; health and hospital workers, public transport workers, supermarket, warehouse and transport workers, cleaners, emergency services, and others.

As we come out of lockdown these workers are once again going to be on the front line of exposure. Our hospital staff, in particular, are likely to be put under extreme stress. So anything we can do to keep union members out of hospital will help lighten their load – and that’s real solidarity.

We absolutely understand that this is a complex issue and a lot of people have strong opinions.

But we are not going to let a tiny minority of anti-vaccination members put the rest of the workforce at risk. Nor will we be intimidated by neo-Nazis in construction cosplay turning up at our offices, trying to force their extreme views on our movement and undo the heroic work of Victorians who have kept this virus at bay for almost two years.

We are interested in the genuine concerns of our members – and we want to hear them. We are not interested in conspiracies stirred up by neo-Nazis here and abroad. We listen to the thousands of frontline workers, public health experts and scientists who have experienced the impact of COVID and are charting our way out of it.

Keeping union members healthy and safe at work will always be our priority.

Luke Hilakari is the Secretary of Victorian Trades Hall Council, the peak body of the union movement in Victoria.

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