On 13 October 2021, the Northern Territory Government released the COVID-19 Directions (No. 55) 2021: Directions for mandatory vaccination of workers to attend the workplace (the Directions), requiring workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to remain working in certain fields.

Workers captured by the Directions will be required to have received the first dose of an available COVID-19 vaccine to attend their workplace from 13 November 2021 and have received their second dose to attend their workplace from 24 December 2021. Workers with an evidenced contraindication to all approved COVID-19 vaccines will be exempt.

Below I run through the key elements of the Directions and how these may impact businesses in the NT.

What do the Directions say?

The Directions provide that the following information must be collected by employers:

Vaccination information

Under the Directions, employers are empowered to request proof of vaccination from their employees, which must be collated in a register of staff detailing their vaccination status.

Whilst vaccination information is protected under the Australian Immunisation Register Act 2015 (Cth), employers will be able to request, collect, use, and disclose this information to give effect to the Directions.

Employers are required to take reasonable steps to determine the vaccination status of their employees. This could include viewing a completed appointment slip, a medical certificate for the first dose or a certificate for full vaccination on a mobile phone.Where an employee refuses to provide such information, they may be treated as if they are unvaccinated.

Who is a worker?

The Directions require workers in certain high-risk fields to be vaccinated against COVID-19. For the purposes of the Directions, a worker includes paid employees, contractors, apprentices, work experience students, labour hire staff and volunteers.

The workers that are required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to attend their workplace in accordance with the Directions include workers who:

  • during the course of their work,are likely to come in direct contact with vulnerable people, including Aboriginal people and those who cannot be vaccinated due to a medical condition or their age
  • work in high-risk settings or who are likely to (during the course of their work) come into contact with a person or thing that poses a risk of COVID-19 infection
  • perform work that is necessary for the operation or maintenance of essential infrastructure or essential logistics in the NT

Examples of who is captured under each category are provided within the Directions.

Workers who come into contact with vulnerable persons may include:

  • Workers who work with children, such as teachers, childcare workers, tutors, gym coaches and swimming instructors
  • Workers who work with disabled persons, elderly persons, or other persons; vulnerable to infection with COVID-19, such as legal service providers, disability care workers and personal carers
  • Workers who directly face customers or patients in health care and ancillary health care services
  • Workers who work in a community consisting of mostly Aboriginal people
  • Workers who provide community services
  • Workers who directly face customers in retail services, financial or hospitality industries and other service industries.

Workers who are at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 include:

  • Health care workers in hospitals and emergency departments
  • Police and emergency service workers
  • Workers in quarantine facilities or other quarantine places
  • Border control workers
  • Workers at other place to which symptomatic people may go, such as medical clinics, respiratory clinics, and pharmacies.

Workplaces that pose a high risk of COVID-19 infection include:

  • Correction and detention facilities
  • Shelters for persons experiencing homelessness or other forms of adversity
  • Mining sites
  • Food processing and distribution facilities
  • Cold storage facilities and abattoirs
  • Cruise vessels

Work that is necessary for the operation or maintenance of essential infrastructure or logistics in the NT includes:

  • Electricity generation facilities, electricity networks and electrical installations
  • Liquid natural gas and other gas facilities
  • Water supply and distribution infrastructure
  • Sewerage treatment facilities
  • Telecommunications systems
  • Roads
  • COVID-19 emergency operations centre

Vaccination and notification requirements

If workers are not at least partially vaccinated (single dose) by 13 November 2021 and fully vaccinated (double dose) by 24 December 2021, they will not be permitted to perform work outside their usual place of residence after those respective dates until they are so vaccinated, unless medically exempt.

Where a worker is not vaccinated in accordance with the Direction (or otherwise medically exempt), businesses must not allow the worker to attend the premises or perform work outside their usual place of residence. Unless an unvaccinated worker can work from home, this effectively means they will be unable to work at all.

The Directions also note that a third dose will likely be required for these workers in 2022, and anticipates an amendment to the Directions will be made to add the additional vaccine requirement when the medical advice is more definite.

Workers who have evidence of a contraindication to all approved COVID-19 vaccines, as defined by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), are exempt from the vaccination requirement and can continue to work. Such workers must provide this evidence to their employer.

Steps for businesses

Business should take reasonable steps to ensure compliance with the Directions, including:

  1. Familiarising themselves with the requirements and definitions in the Directions
  2. Notifying employees of the requirements contained in the Directions regarding the provision of their vaccination status and the requirement to be partially vaccinated and fully vaccinated by 13 November 2021 and 24 December 2021 respectively
  3. Engage with employees to encourage compliance with the vaccination requirements
  4. Request employees provide vaccination evidence as promptly as possible to avoid disruptions in their ability to perform work
  5. Consider placing employees who are unvaccinated or have not provided vaccination evidence by the required date/s on a period of unpaid leave or by agreement, paid leave. Personal leave will generally not be available where the employee is not suffering from an illness or injury that renders them unfit for work
  6. In the event an employee refuses to comply with the Directions, seek advice concerning the potential options available which may include but are not limited to ending the employment relationship

If you have any questions about this information, please contact the Client Success Team – we’re always here to support you.

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