Jab jitters: retailers grapple with vax rules

Luke Ritchie
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Sydney’s lockdown ended overnight, with midnight haircuts, gym sessions and early morning shopping queues highlighting the enormous relief felt across the city. For those of us watching from Melbourne, we share the optimism of our own community opening up in just a matter of weeks.

Sydney is now living one of the biggest issues on the minds of retailers across the country – the mandatory vaccination question. Do we mandate for our staff? How will that work? What about customers? Do we let people in our stores if they aren’t double dosed? How will we manage all of this?

The lockdown “freedoms” so celebrated today across Sydney are only available to fully-vaccinated consumers. Shoppers without a double-vaccination will be refused entry to all but essential retail, as has been the case throughout lockdown.

We all know vaccination is the best weapon we have against the virus and the best chance we have of getting back to life as we know it. But no business wants to put itself in a position where it is open to potential litigation, reputational damage and being responsible for creating a hostile environment for staff and customers.

We’ve seen Qantas, Virgin, Telstra and SPC make the bold step to mandate the jab for staff. The canned food giant then faced challenges from Victoria’s work safety regulator for allegedly not properly consulting staff about the plans and being in breach of health and safety legislation.

It’s a tricky path for any business to tread on its own, and so we have a situation where organisations are waiting for state governments to make public health orders for mandatory vaccination for industries that are not deemed “authorised” or “essential workers”.

The Victorian government announcement last week to make vaccination compulsory for more than a million authorised workers is a welcome first step. But it didn’t go as far as to place a jab order on the retail industry. Nor did it outline whether retail will only be open to the fully vaccinated when the Melbourne lockdown ends.

In NSW, call volumes to retail support groups have never been higher. Retailers are desperate for advice on how to mandate the jab for staff and how to manage refusal of entry of unvaccinated would-be customers. It’s fair to say security guards will be in hot demand as they try to police the line between the vaxxed and the unvaxxed. This looms as an expensive and messy exercise whichever way you look at it.

The reopening is great news for retailers, but it will also bring with it a myriad of complex issues in which to navigate as they hope to stay open with confidence, clarity and certainty.

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