Vaccine mandates an extra headache for Geraldton small businesses battling to find workers

Michael RobertsGeraldton Guardian
WA Premier Mark McGowan.
Camera IconWA Premier Mark McGowan. Credit: Simon Santi/The West Australian

The Mid West Chamber of Commerce and Industry says the State Government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates have caused widespread panic for small business owners in the region who are already struggling with a staffing crisis.

Chief executive Joanne Fabling said October’s announcement the vast majority of WA’s workforce would need at least one jab by January 31 to stay in a job had caught many small businesses off guard.

“It caused a panic in a lot of sectors — I’ve personally fielded a lot of calls and emails,” she said.

“This has really put some stress on to businesses that are already fatigued and experiencing staff shortages.”

Workers in Group 1 industries — including air transport, community care services, WA police, fire and emergency services and meat processing — must have their first dose by December 1 or face the sack.

Employees in Group 2 — including hospitality, supermarkets, child care, petrol stations, construction, public transport and accommodation — have until the end of the year to get a first dose.

Mid West Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Joanne Fabling.
Camera IconMid West Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Joanne Fabling. Credit: Supplied

Ms Fabling said she was not necessarily against the mandates, but messaging around the plan lacked detail.

“There should have been a lot more consultation,” she said.

“I don’t know if it’s coming out of a source of frustration from people not getting vaccinated quickly enough, but we just need a lot more detail.”

Workers who flout the rules face a $20,000 fine, while employers risk being $100,000 out of pocket.

Ms Fabling said some Mid West business owners were considering shutting up shop because the mandates would cripple their operations.

“It’s had a massive effect,” she said. “Where we will feel it most is in the hospitality industry.”

WA businesses are desperately crying out for workers, but access to overseas and interstate labour will remain limited until the State reaches a 90 per cent vaccination rate and opens its borders — expected around February.

Anti-vaxxers protest against Mark McGowan's latest COVID vaccination requirements outside Parliament House on Wednesday morning.
Camera IconAnti-vaxxers protest against Mark McGowan's latest COVID vaccination requirements outside Parliament House on Wednesday morning. Credit: Kelsey Reid/The West Australian

Ms Fabling said she would love to see the borders open sooner to bring in extra workers, but she did not think WA’s healthcare system could manage a COVID-19 outbreak.

“The alarm bells are ringing,” she said. “I’m pretty sure our health system will not stand up.

“There’s a very good reason why we need 90 per cent.”

She said she hoped both State and Federal governments would continue to boost training opportunities after the pandemic was over.

“We already had a huge skills shortage, and COVID has just exacerbated that,” Ms Fabling said.

“What I hope we don’t do is take our foot off the training accelerator of our youth coming through.

“And anyone that is looking to up-skill or cross-skill, we really need to keep those opportunities wide and open.”

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