Telstra to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for frontline staff

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Telstra has become the first telecommunications company to announce it will require its frontline staff to be vaccinated against the coronavirus to safeguard against illness and help them move across state borders if disasters such as bushfires hit.

Its decision – following that of airlines Qantas and Virgin, food manufacturer SPC and even the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania – shows vaccine rules are gaining acceptance from corporate giants across industries.

Telstra boss Andy Penn has written to his staff announcing that frontline workers, such as many technicians, will be required to be vaccinated.Credit:Arsineh Houspian

Under the proposal Telstra, which has nearly 29,000 employees, would mandate vaccination for about 8300 roles, including retail staff and technicians who have dealings with the public, after a week of consultation with its workforce and unions.

Staff would be required to have their first vaccination by October 15 and their second by November 15, with “flexibility” if there are supply issues. More than 7200 Telstra staff already report being vaccinated.

“At this stage we are not proposing to make getting vaccinated a requirement for people who can work from home,” Telstra chief executive Andy Penn said in an email to staff on Monday.

“But this is something we may consider down the track, particularly once more of us start to head back into the office and meet up in person.”

Mr Penn said he understood some people would choose not to get vaccinated but “given what’s at stake when it comes to protecting people’s health we would only consider exceptions on established medical grounds”, noting the company wanted to be “on the right side of history”.

He gave examples of a technician flying to the Tiwi Islands or entering a nursing home to fix IT equipment as situations where vaccines would be especially important.

“And as we approach what is typically disaster season in Australia, we hope that having fully vaccinated teams will help us more easily move people across state borders to assist should there be a natural disaster,” Mr Penn said.

Some state governments have mandated jabs for sectors such as healthcare but Prime Minister Scott Morrison has made clear that most firms will have to make their own decisions on whether to require vaccinations against COVID-19 or not.

Industrial law allows businesses to issue staff with “lawful and reasonable” directions, which most legal experts agree includes vaccination for people who cannot work from home, so long as appropriate exemptions are offered.

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