Almost 50,000 public servants employed in the local government sector will be the first in NSW to access paid vaccine leave under a deal struck with more than 100 councils.
In a major incentive for one of the state’s largest workforces to get the jab, council employees under a splinter agreement will be able to attend vaccination appointments without having to eat into other entitlements, including sick leave or annual leave.
The employees, however, will have to take sick leave for any negative side effects they suffer as a result of receiving the vaccine.
The amendment to the splinter award, which was created to financially buffer local government workers at the beginning of the pandemic, also includes opportunities for redeployment if council workers are unable to do their usual jobs because they are in isolation.
The deal struck between multiple unions and and council peak body Local Government NSW has seen about 105 of the state’s 128 councils sign on, and follows calls from NSW Labor for the state government to introduce the provision after frontline workers tested positive for COVID-19 amid Sydney’s growing outbreak.
Local Government NSW president Linda Scott said ensuring more than 45,000 people in the council workforce were vaccinated would create a stronger health and economic recovery for NSW.
“Providing leave to allow our workforce to be vaccinated, and to be redeployed where possible when in isolation, is the right thing to do,” Cr Scott, who is also a councillor at the City of Sydney, said.
“For most people, getting the vaccine should be possible within two to three hours. Without seeking to infringe on individual circumstances and personal choice, councils will generally be encouraging all staff to get vaccinated.”
United Services Union general secretary Graeme Kelly, who helped negotiate the deal, said the local government industry – “the closest tier of government to the people” – had demonstrated it could work collaboratively with employees for the benefit of the community.
“It’s a milestone across the nation,” Mr Kelly said.
A splinter award is an amendment to the usual state award for council workers with a sunset clause around COVID-19 provisions.
Labor leader Chris Minns last week called for the government to consider introducing two half-days of paid vaccination leave for its workforce, especially for healthcare workers and for those working with vulnerable citizens.
“These are the people who have served on the frontline against COVID for more than a year. They have gone above and beyond to protect the community,” Mr Minns said.
“Supporting our essential workers like paramedics, nurses, police and teachers, so they can get vaccinated makes sense.”
It comes as the Commonwealth and state and territory governments move ahead with a plan to gradually open up Australia based on vaccination thresholds being met.
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NSW Health has already prioritised vaccines for hotel quarantine workers, border staff and frontline healthcare workers at COVID-19 clinics, emergency department workers, COVID ward workers, and pathology lab staff.
Certain private sector organisations are encouraging flexibility in allowing their workforce to take time out of their days to get vaccinated, including the National Australia Bank, which has been one of the mayor employers to volunteer to assist with Australia’s stalled vaccine rollout.
A spokesman for NSW’s Public Service and Employee Relations Minister Don Harwin previously told the Herald that the government encouraged all public sector employees to register for the COVID-19 vaccine and receive it as soon as they are eligible.
“Employees should be talking with their managers about taking personal leave or using flexible work arrangements to attend their vaccine appointments,” the spokesman said.
When contacted again regarding the local government sector’s vaccine leave agreement, Mr Harwin’s office stood by its spokesman’s previous comments.
Sydney Morning Herald