Union concedes to Telstra vaccine mandate after legal advice

Although the CEPU said Telstra has softened its stance during consultation, it is calling for the mandate to be extended to all third parties that interact with the workforce.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor
Image: Telstra

At the start of last month, Australia's incumbent telco Telstra said it was looking to introduce a vaccine mandate for employees that had frequent contact with the public, were in a location with vulnerable people or in places that could lead to an outbreak, or where health regulations required people to be vaccinated.

"It would also apply to our business critical teams who need to work onsite, such as those monitoring our network at our global operations centre or answering calls in our Triple Zero Emergency contact centres," Telstra CEO Andy Penn tweeted at the time.

"This is an important step. We're a team of many thousands serving many millions who rely on us to stay connected. Having fully vaccinated teams will mean we can help protect the most vulnerable in our communities, the customers we interact with each day -- and each other."

Communications Electrical Plumbing Union (CEPU) said at the time it would be backing members having a choice of whether to be vaccinated.

"The union supports our members having the choice as to whether or not they are vaccinated -- not because it is a popular view amongst some of our members, but because it is based on the current public health advice," it said in September.

"We will continue to advocate for and defend our members' right to that choice so long as the public health advice is that choice remains reasonable, manageable and inconsequential to the interests of public health."

Fast forward to mid-October, and after receiving legal advice, the union has accepted Telstra's mandate.

"It concludes that, on the basis of the proposed policy, the most recent advice of the Fair Work Ombudsman and other decisions made by the Fair Work Commission on dismissals for similar reasons, failing to comply with a direction made under the policy would form a valid reason for dismissal," it said.

Due to the high level of vaccination within Telstra, the union said a "substantial majority" would have been vaccinated without the mandate being in place, and while it was against the policy, to advise members not to adhere to it would be irresponsible.

"The union broadly opposes this policy on the basis that it does not align with the Federal Government's public health position -- that the vaccination is free of cost and is voluntary for each Australian," the CEPU said.

"There are people who are genuinely hesitant due to something they may have read on social media or other online forums and should be given an opportunity to have a genuine discussion with their own doctors about their personal circumstances to enable them to overcome that hesitancy."

At the same time, the union is now calling on Telstra to expand its mandate to all third parties that come into contact with a Telstra worker.

"For the same reasons Telstra justifies its implementation of this policy, it should also introduce requirements for third-parties entering Telstra owned or operated properties -- including other telco representatives and customers, and should also not require an employee to attend a customer premises if the occupants of those premises are not vaccinated," it said.

"These are all environments in which our members work -- and Telstra, therefore, has a responsibility to provide a safe working environment."

The union ended its statement on Tuesday by saying it "urged" all members to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Over the weekend, Telstra opened a vaccination hub in its Melbourne headquarters for its workers, as well as a single family member of workers. Penn said that 10,000 of Telstra's 25,000 direct employees had handed to the telco their certificates of full vaccination.

At the start of September, Telstra said it would be rewarding customers that got vaccinated.

In response, Telstra said it has been working to make sure any workers from partners, suppliers, and stakeholders on Telstra premises are jabbed.

"We've asked these employers to make sure their people are fully vaccinated and we trust them to follow the guidance of the NSW Government and to work within our requirements to keep our locations COVIDSafe," it said.

The telco added it would "continue to use COVIDSafe measures" when servicing homes of unvaccinated customers.

Updated at 5:46pm AEDT, 12 October 2021: Added Telstra comment.

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