The majority of police staff in Australia are getting vaccinated, but there has been kickback from some – who have been stood down – and vaccine mandates have been challenged in court.
More than 130 Queensland Police Service (QPS) staff have been suspended for not complying with the commissioner’s directive that all the 17,200-strong force get vaccinated.
About 60 QPS officers and non-sworn staff took a case against the vaccine mandate to the state’s Industrial Relations Commission, claiming the commissioner had no power to issue the directive, did not consult with staff and had infringed workers’ right.
Last month, the commission rejected the claims, and the employees now must choose between being vaccinated or being suspended without pay and/or dismissal.
The commission argued that the QPS must be operationally ready to fulfil its policing role and Covid-19 challenged that ability. “Rapid transmission of Covid-19 through the police service would take police officers and staff members out of service while they undertake quarantine periods or recover from Covid-19. In an extreme scenario, this could reduce the availability of police officers and staff members for deployment and threaten the ability of the QPS to serve the community.”
All QPS employees must now be fully vaccinated by January 24 or face suspension or dismissal.
Meanwhile, a smaller group of QPS officers and health workers fighting the Covid-19 vaccine mandate scored a minor win in a Supreme Court challenge last month. Justice Jean Dalton ruled that she had jurisdiction to hear parts of their civil cases, and they wouldn’t be sent to the Industrial Relations Commission. A hearing has been set for December 20-22.
In Victoria, which has been dealing with Australia’s highest daily Covid-19 case numbers, 43 police officers (including nine protection services officers) have been stood down after not complying with vaccine requirements. They have been referred to professional standards and could be fired.
The Victoria Police Association said the suspensions were not unexpected, “given that Victoria Police, like all employees of authorised workers, has an obligation to follow the law”.
In New South Wales, all police staff are supposed to be fully vaccinated by the end of November. As with other states, exemptions are available for medical or other valid reasons. By September, more than 17,000 of the force’s 21,000 employees had already been fully or partly vaccinated.
Police Federation of Australia chief executive Scott Weber says there can be little argument against mandated Covid-19 vaccinations for police when officers have been at the forefront of social distancing throughout the pandemic.
Nearly all Australian police were vaccinated with at least one dose. “Most members have been more than willing to get vaccinated to protect the community and their families. Vaccinations are saving lives and keeping the economy open.
“Our workforce has been at the coalface of Covid, and we’ve all seen friends, colleagues and family lose their jobs as part of the pandemic. We need to move forward in a safe manner and vaccination is one of the pathways out of this.”
If an officer did not want to get vaccinated, it brought into question their commitment to their careers and their colleagues, also bearing in mind that many police did not want to work with staff who weren’t vaccinated.
In New Zealand, figures released last month showed that 83 per cent of police had received one dose of the vaccine, while 70.5 per cent were fully vaccinated.
Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins was reported last month as saying it was “quite possible” there would be a vaccine mandate for police, with Police Minister Poto Williams saying a decision was imminent.
There is some vaccine hesitancy among New Zealand Police staff, but, as of going to print, that has yet to be tested under a vaccine mandate.
Additional sources: Seven News, Brisbane Times, ABC, Sydney Morning Herald.