67% of retail businesses believe COVID vaccines should be mandatory for frontline retail staff, new research from the Australian Retailers Association indicates.
A survey of over 250 small, medium and large retailers across Australia found that while two-thirds believe the vaccines should be mandatory, 76% would not mandate the vaccine in the current environment while there are legal ambiguities.
The ARA survey found that 83% of respondents are in favour of vaccine prioritisation for retail workers, while 82% of ARA members support a vaccine passport system which allows greater freedoms for fully vaccinated people.
However, when it comes to vaccine passports as a condition of entry to a retail store, the support reduces, with only 57% in favour of this measure.
ARA CEO Paul Zahra said the retail industry supports widespread vaccination of Australia's population.
"The ARA is strongly campaigning for the vaccination of as many Australians as possible.
"We need to power through to the 70% and 80% vaccination marks to trigger more freedoms for citizens and put an end to the lockdowns that are decimating so many businesses and livelihoods.
"Retail workers are at the coalface of the crisis and deserve prioritisation and protection.
"However, the issue of mandatory vaccinations for certain workforce cohorts is complex.
"Unfortunately, the Federal Government has left this decision in the hands of employers, and this comes with great risk.
"There’s a great deal of confusion and legal ambiguity around this and we need to see urgent leadership from the Federal Government to enable the necessary legal protections should businesses decide to make vaccines mandatory for their staff.
"It’s unfair to leave small businesses to navigate this legal minefield, and expose them to additional costs, without clarity or safeguards in place," he said.
The survey results come as New South Wales announces new freedoms for fully vaccinated citizens from September 13.
Fully vaccinated NSW residents who live outside of COVID hotspot LGAs will be able to gather outside in groups of five, within five kilometres from home.
Meanwhile, fully vaxxed citizens in LGAs of concern will also be able to gather outdoors but will have to follow restrictions around curfews and exercise limits.
Zahra added that while the majority of the ARA's member support vaccine passports and greater freedoms for fully vaccinated Aussies, the organisation believes vaccine passports aren't appropriate for general retail.
"The majority of our members support a vaccine passport system to allow greater freedoms for fully vaccinated people.
"Whilst it could make sense to allow businesses like hairdressers, beauty and nail salons, and restaurants that are currently shut in locked down jurisdictions to reopen and take bookings, we don’t believe such a system should apply to general retail settings.
"The ARA holds that vaccine passports are not appropriate for general retail, where they would interfere with Australian’s rights to access basic living essentials.
"To add to this, vaccine passports are another legally challenged area.
"The resources required to introduce store checking requirements and respond to customer enquiries and potential customer abuse resulting from the introduction of this measure adds a layer of distress to a retail workforce which is already struggling under the burden of COVID compliance demands.
"Many businesses in lockdown affected states are on the brink of financial, emotional and mental health collapse.
"Our greatest current priority is giving Australians and the retail workforce access to vaccinations.
"Only then can we see a staged reopening of society as vaccination rates improve so these businesses can thrive once again," he said.