Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Last-minute law-making means chaos for businesses


“Today’s rushed COVID-19 vaccine mandate legislation shows a Government out of touch with business, we can’t support this legislation without major explanation and change,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“There are some parts of this Bill to be commended. Businesses need a tool to evaluate COVID risks. This Bill also clarifies conflicts between Health and Safety and privacy laws. 

“It also leaves open the opportunity for regular testing as an alternative to mandatory vaccination, in workplace settings at least, something ACT has been calling for. 

“But we have concerns too. 

“The first vaccines were issued in February. The Government has had nine months to prepare. Now it’s giving employers 10 days to keep records, do health and safety assessments and put health and safety processes in place. 

“It may be much worse. The 10 day timeline is if the Government has regulations ready to go as soon as this law passes. This law doesn’t clarify anything matters, it just lets the Minister make regulations that might. 

“This Government has no clue about the practicality businesses face, and probably doesn’t understand how unworkable much of this law is.

“One thing that is clear is that unvaccinated workers get four weeks paid leave to think about it, on the employer’s expense, when small business is struggling already. 

“A difficult employee could rort the system, taking four weeks paid leave and then returning when they suddenly have a change of heart. The process for an employee taking the time, deciding to return, and being allowed to return (the employer can claim the employee returning is an ‘unreasonable disruption'), is a total mess.

“The Government has given itself sweeping ability to make laws by dictate. It will rush them through under urgency tonight – but not that urgently. The Government has has timed the legislation to be in Parliament after the 6pm news. They want to minimise public scrutiny by debating this law at night. 

“ACT will support the Bill at first reading and push the Government to make changes. We recognise that businesses do need clarity, and they need political parties to be constructive right now. We’d like to make this Bill more workable for business. If those changes aren’t agreed to, however, we will withdraw our support for later votes on the Bill.

“ACT will be looking for the Government to explain or make changes on the following matters before continuing to support the Bill.

• The obligation to pay out four weeks’ wages for someone who refuses to get vaccinated needs to be removed, it is totally unfair on employers

• The obligation on a PCBU to conduct an assessment, what the assessment tool will look like, and how the Government expects businesses to do this in the next 10 days all need to be explained

• Whether the requirement to be vaccinated to leave a specified area can be substituted for a vaccination or test requirement, restricting freedom of movement to vaccinated only may be a human rights breach when testing could work as an alternative

• How the cancellation of a dismissal notice would work, who can initiate such a cancellation and who can nullify one in the event that an employee decides to get vaccinated but the employer decides that the employee returning to work would be an ‘unreasonable disruption. The employment law part is a total mess.

“ACT will reluctantly support the Bill to first reading because we acknowledge it gets some things right, and businesses need clarity. However, the entire process is so rushed and muddled that, without the above issues being resolved, ACT will vote against the Bill in subsequent readings."