30 November 2021, No. 27-21 | Download PDF
TO: QTU MEMBERS
Mandatory vaccinations for teachers and travel over the holidays
Today the Chief Health Officer (CHO) advised that they would be issuing a directive that would mandate COVID-19 vaccinations, including all employees in state and private schools, early childhood settings, prisons, youth detention facilities and airports.
The QTU has been clear with the government that vaccines should only be mandated by health order. At each turn in this pandemic we have worked with the department to provide a response in schools in line with the health advice. This has included ensuring appropriate hygiene, cleaning, support for lockdowns and personal protective equipment has been provided in both schools as ordered by the CHO. The QTU also called for our members, as front-line essential workers to be prioritised for the vaccine roll out.
The Union’s position on mandatory vaccines is also clear, these should only be made in accordance with health advice, not at the discretion of the Director-General. Consequently, given the concerns of increased numbers of infectious people entering the Queensland community once we reach the 80 percent double vaccination rate, the CHO has made this determination.
Under the information issued today, all QTU members working in state schools and youth detention facilities are required to have received their first dose of vaccine by 17 December 2021 and have received their second dose of vaccine by 23 January 2022.
We are advised that the Department of Education is currently developing a centralised process for members to advise their vaccination status rather than a workplace-by-workplace process in an endeavour to reduce school leader workload.
If you have not received your second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by 23 January 2022, the department is likely to suspend teachers pending a show cause process. We have advised the department that this could result in significant disruption to the commencement of the 2022 school year given students are due to return to schools the following day. Members working conditions should not be compromised in the absence of sufficient teaching staff due to the mandate.
The QTU has also called upon the department to prioritise the provision of rapid antigen testing for members in remote communities so that they are able to travel in and out of communities with confidence.
Will there be exemptions?
If you have grounds for an exemption, please act now to ensure your exempt status is recorded in your Medicare app. The Union expects the department to allow teachers to continue to work if they have obtained a valid exemption.
Without a valid and proven exemption, even teachers with medical conditions or religious beliefs will not be permitted to work unless vaccinated.
QTU legal response
In preparation for a decision on mandatory vaccinations, the QTU has sought advice from its lawyers about what measures may be taken if a mandate was issued.
The mandatory vaccination requirement is to be set out in a public health direction issued by the CHO of Queensland in accordance with their powers under the Public Health Act.
We are advised that for the order to be discriminatory it must adversely affect persons with a protected attribute, such as a medical condition or religious beliefs. Conscientious objection or vaccine hesitancy is not a protected attribute. Therefore, the health directives do not meet the definition of discrimination and any discrimination claim is likely to fail.
The Union is also advised that the public health directive is unlikely to be found to be a breach of a member’s human rights or against a person’s right to consent to medical treatment. Members are still able to refuse to be vaccinated, in making this choice the CHO has placed a prohibition on you continuing to work in an education setting. Courts have said the differential treatment of people based on their vaccination status is an evidence-based approach and is not arbitrary in nature.
Finally, our lawyers have advised that no legal challenge to public health directives has been successful anywhere in Australia.
In considering whether the restrictions are justified, the courts will consider the extent to which the restrictions impinge on human rights and are likely to find the limitations are reasonable and justified because protecting the health and safety of the public is a fundamental responsibility of government.
Limitations on human rights are also likely to be reasonable and justified to ensure the preservation of life and protection of the community from the worst impacts of a pandemic.
Courts are likely to agree that the balance between safety of the public in general and individual freedom of conscience, weighs in favour of limiting freedom of conscience in the way set out in the public health directive. The temporary nature of the restrictions is also a significant feature of this conclusion.
Consequently, the QTU has determined not to provide any legal assistance to challenge the current health directive mandating vaccines for the education sector.
However, should you be suspended from your duties and asked to show cause, the QTU lawyers will assist you in providing this response. NB: you must be a member at the time of the issuing of the health directive mandating the vaccines to receive legal assistance.
Easing of restrictions at 80 percent double vaccinated
The Queensland Government is planning to reopen the border to New South Wales and Victoria once the state reaches 80 percent double vaccination which is modelled to occur around 17 December 2021.
Once Queensland achieves the 80 percent double vaccination target activities in the community will open to the double vaccinated, with limitations placed on those who remain unvaccinated. Venue limits will be removed from hospitality and entertainment/sporting venues and functions such as weddings, but all staff and patrons will be required to be double vaccinated. Private functions in hospitality venues that include unvaccinated patrons will be capped at 20 people. Unvaccinated people will also be restricted from visiting aged care facilities, hospitals, prisons, and disability care facilities.
These restrictions are likely to mean that many of the QTU functions and events such as training and professional development will also require members who wish to attend to be double vaccinated.
Travelling out of Queensland during the summer holidays
Travel will be permitted with limited restrictions for double vaccinated Queenslanders. From last Monday, Queenslanders could also return from interstate and quarantine at home. Members who are planning to travel interstate or overseas for the summer vacation period should check the Queensland Government website to confirm what quarantining requirements are in place for the travel destination and date of travel. Currently, the road map shows that if you are not double vaccinated that you will be required to quarantine for 14 days in a government run quarantine facility at your own expense. If you are required to quarantine, this should be factored into your travel plans as you may be ineligible for special quarantine leave if the quarantine period extends into your rostered workdays at the beginning of the 2022 school year.
Authorised by Kate Ruttiman, General Secretary, Queensland Teachers' Union
21 Graham Street, Milton, QLD, Australia, 4064