ECA takes a position on mandated vaccinations for those working in ECEC
Early Childhood Australia (ECA) has released a position statement on COVID-19 vaccinations and the early childhood education and care (ECEC) workforce, in which the peak body lends its support to measures taken by some state governments to prioritise vaccination for the ECEC workforce, and announces its support for an extension of mandated vaccination to other jurisdictions.
In addition ECA strongly recommended that a publicly funded, targeted communication strategy for the ECEC sector be developed by relevant authorities to encourage and support vaccination, build awareness and address concerns or questions.
The statement begins by acknowledging that the ECEC workforce, along with the rest of the community is experiencing the impacts of the COVID-19 virus, and the significant challenges it poses.
Given that ECEC services have been classified as essential services, and continued to operate throughout the pandemic to give care to vulnerable children and the children of essential workers, the risk of COVID-19 transmission through ECEC venues remains prevalent.
By the nature of the work undertaken in ECEC, children and the ECEC workforce interact closely, increasing the risk of transmission of COVID-19 between children, staff, parents and colleagues during the course of a work day, and then by returning to families, friends and social networks outside of working hours.
A NSW study, the statement notes, reported high transmissibility of the Delta variant resulting in a five-fold increase in the spread of COVID-19 in schools, early childhood education and care (ECEC) services and households, when compared to the 2020 experience with the original strain of the COVID-19 virus.
Transmission within ECEC services has mostly been between staff members, however has also occurred from staff members to children. Children who caught COVID-19 during the study period often passed this on to members of their household.
Mandated vaccination in some states
At time of print, the New South Wales and Northern Territory Governments had both issued public health orders mandating ECEC staff to be vaccinated where their roles require them to have direct contact with children, with medical exemptions applying in specific circumstances.
Under workplace health and safety legislation employers have a duty to eliminate or minimise the risk (as far as is reasonably practicable) of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. Vaccination can be considered as one way of managing COVID-19 risk.
“It is likely that many employers would prefer a vaccination mandate to be made by the government, rather than introduce an individual vaccination policy, as this would provide a clear mandate,” the ECA said.
Where no state or territory public health orders are in place requiring vaccination, ECA advised that employers can require employees to be vaccinated in the following circumstances :
- the requirement is permitted by an enterprise agreement, other registered agreement or employment contract (see Agreements or contracts relating to vaccinations), or;
- it would be lawful and reasonable for an employer to give their employees a direction to be vaccinated, which is assessed on a case-by-case basis (see lawful and reasonable directions to get vaccinated).
Employers considering a change to workplace policy to include a requirement for COVID-19 vaccination should seek legal and IR advice and consult extensively with employees, ECA advised.
To access the statement in full, please see here.