New research shows how many company directors and business leaders think that employers should be permitted to mandate that staff get vaccinated for coronavirus, and sheds light on other pressing employee relations concerns.
Global law firm King & Wood Mallesons has released its 2021 Directions survey, which was conducted last month and explores the views of 235 company directors and senior business leaders regarding their reform priorities in areas including but not limited to taxation, foreign investment, employee relations and infrastructure.
The results show that over four in five (82 per cent) of respondents believe that employers should have the right to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for their staff in at least some circumstances.
The cohort was split on the circumstances in which such a mandate could be acceptable: half (41 per cent of all respondents) said that a mandate should be in place in all circumstances, while the other half said it should be in place for those operating in high-risk environments, such as healthcare and food handling.
Reflecting on the findings, KWM special counsel Ruth Rosedale (pictured) said that while the issue of vaccines is a “complex legal, political, moral and societal issue”, the findings of the survey reveal a “groundswell of support” for the notion of mandatory vaccinations as a condition of employment.
“This view is currently at odds with the position adopted by the Fair Work Ombudsman and Safe Work Australia, which contemplate there are limited circumstances where an employee could be required to be vaccinated by their employer,” she wrote.
“This is certainly a space to watch, as organisations increasingly look to encourage employees to return to the workplace and create new COVID-normal working conditions.”
Other employee relations concerns
Elsewhere, respondents were asked about the most pressing legal or regulatory concerns they have for their organisations in the employee and industrial relations spaces.
Almost half (44 per cent) identified the complexity of modern awards and enterprise bargaining agreements as being their top concern, more than doubling the volume of company directors and business leaders concerned with incorrect characterisation of independent contractor relationships and risk of exposure to employee entitlements (19 per cent).
Other highly ranked concerns identified included wage underpayments and consequential reputational and business damage (14 per cent) and the incorrect characterisation of casual employees (12 per cent).
Ms Rosedale said it was “significant, although perhaps not surprising”, that the complexity of modern awards and enterprise bargaining agreements was far and away the biggest concern.
“The increasingly convoluted and often impenetrable drafting of these instruments is genuinely impacting employers – both small and large alike – in a period where there is a real need for businesses to be agile and to adapt to changing and novel circumstances,” she wrote.
“The challenges of the current system not only present serious compliance and productivity concerns for organisations but let down the rights and interests of Australian workers who rely on their terms to provide a minimum floor of terms and conditions of employment.
“This issue has and will continue to be an ongoing trend until the underlying framework of the system is tackled head on by the federal government.”
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