WorkSafe clears SPC over vaccination program

Mandatory jabs: SPC will require its workforce to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of November. Photo by Megan Fisher

WorkSafe Victoria has wound up an investigation into SPC over the way it introduced mandatory vaccination for its workers.

Early in August, the food processor announced it was making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all staff, contractors and visitors to its sites by the end of November.

The announcement created national headlines because it was among the first private companies to mandate the shots.

Since then the Victorian Government has announced compulsory vaccinations for hundreds of thousands of employees, including workers in essential industries.

On October 5, SPC said it had been cleared by WorkSafe for failing to consult with its staff.

SPC said the concerns raised by WorkSafe Victoria were identical to the criticisms of SPC’s consultation program raised by the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Australian Council of Trade Unions soon after it announced its mandate that all staff must be vaccinated against COVID-19

“Despite the ongoing outbreak of COVID in Shepparton, we welcomed an inspection from WorkSafe inspectors at our production facility and the result of today’s report should be regarded as a win for all Australian businesses who are implementing COVID-19 vaccine mandates,” SPC chief executive officer Robert Giles said.

“We value our positive relationship with WorkSafe, and their inspectors are held in high regard by our managers and representatives in Shepparton,” Mr Giles said.

“Up to 70 per cent of our workforce and 30 per cent of the Shepparton community were in isolation at the time.

“It’s shameful that while our local resources were stretched — keeping our people informed and safe while also delivering care packages to their homes — that someone, most likely within the AMWU, saw fit to test us on a technicality rather than supporting our efforts.”

Mr Giles said WorkSafe had told the company it had reviewed relevant documents and was satisfied that consultation had occurred.

He said there had been a flurry of anti-vax criticism on social media, but it had subsided after a week and the company was encouraged by the wider support it had received.

SPC made the initial decision about mandatory vaccination on August 5 and then set about consulting with staff on how the objective was going to be reached.

Unions had objected that the company did not consult on the decision and was in breach of the spirit, if not the letter, of the industrial law requiring consultation.

AMWU assistant national secretary of food industry Jason Hefford, who has been working with SPC and the staff on the implementation of the vaccination plan, said it wasn’t him who reported the company to WorkSafe.

“But there were a lot of people who knew the staff weren’t told before the decision and there was a lot of media coverage,” Mr Hefford said.

He said a large number of staff had already had their first vaccination when SPC announced the decision, and he was now aware of only two people who were declining the vaccination.

WorkSafe did not directly confirm it had ‘cleared’ SPC, but acknowledged it had conducted inquiries to ensure occupational health and safety obligations were being met.

“Victorian employers must take every reasonable step to protect workers from risks to both their physical and mental health,” WorkSafe said.

“This includes consulting with workers and any human resources staff about how they manage health and safety issues in the workplace.”