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Paid vaccination leave under discussion for public sector workers

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The Palaszczuk Government is in talks with unions about paid vaccination leave as the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 adds urgency to the vaccination rollout.

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A Brisbane-based Qantas flight attendant and a Sydney man she collected from Ballina Airport are the latest Delta cases to put Queensland on alert. The man should have complied with the terms of the Sydney lockdown and seemingly did not know he had COVID-19 when he and the woman were active in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast for over a week.

While the woman was allowed to travel to Ballina, she has already come under scrutiny for an inexplicable delay in being tested, which initially raised concern for several regional flights. An apparent laboratory error has only added to the drama.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young on Sunday said the revelation the man was the missing link between the woman and the Sydney outbreak had changed the timing and effectively cleared the flights. However, the pair still moved about in more populated areas while infectious, with the list of exposure sites now including several shopping centres, a daycare centre, and various cafes.

As the vaccination rollout continues, albeit with Pfizer doses still being rationed, the State Government is trying to increase the number of eligible Queenslanders getting protected. It has encouraged older people to get AstraZeneca from GPs or Commonwealth clinics, and advised younger people to be patient if waiting for Pfizer.

The Queensland Council of Unions last month wrote to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk requesting two days’ paid vaccination leave for all government employees, including time away from work to get the jab and manage any side effects. The proposal would include casual employees.

“This leave should ensure that workers are no worse off financially for getting the vaccine, and will remove a significant barrier to workers accessing the first and second shots necessary to be fully vaccinated,” said QCU general secretary Michael Clifford.

“Ultimately, providing leave and encouragement for workers to be vaccinated, particularly in regional areas, will benefit all Queenslanders and will see our state recover even more quickly.”

Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace has carriage of the issue within government and is weighing up supply and demand issues – both of vaccines and workers.

“Unions have raised the issue of paid vaccination leave and discussions are continuing regarding a range of factors, including vaccine availability and the differing operational needs of government agencies,” Grace said in a statement.

Queensland Health is the most affected by mandatory vaccination requirements, and is expected to soon require all staff at five COVID-19 hospitals to have protection. That is an extension on the current requirement for staff treating COVID-19 patients to be vaccinated.

Queensland Nurses and Midwives’ Union acting secretary Kate Veach said “vaccination is key to keeping Queenslanders safe during this pandemic”.

“The QNMU has called for vaccination leave to be made available to public sector nurses and midwives and we understand Queensland Health is considering our request,” Veach said.

Last year, the government imposed a freeze on public sector wages, as part of initial austerity efforts, however that has since thawed, with politicians even getting pay rises.

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