When surveys get weird

Or… No Jab, No Job Part 2

I don’t know about you, but I barely recognise the Australia we see in the media this week. The anti-vaccination riots in Melbourne, if nothing else, indicate what a divisive and emotive topic mandatory vaccinations in the workplace are, and we’ve seen similar trends in the data collected around that topic from last week’s newsletter. I thought I’d share the results with you. 

We asked three anonymous questions: the first asked the respondent to indicate whether they were an employee or an employer. The second asked ‘do you support mandatory vaccination in the workplace?’ (Yes/No), and the 3rd simply asked for the reasoning behind that answer. We did not ask for responses on vaccinations efficacy, trial status, or personal liberties.

The results were interesting. In the five days, the survey was open for submissions; 91 respondents provided answers.

The bald numbers show 52% against mandatory vaccination in the workplace and 48% supporting it.

The slightly more nuanced version shows different ratios:

  • Employers > 50 employees: 66% Yes, 33% No. (13% of all respondents)
  • Employers < 50 employees: 49% Yes, 51% No. (22% of all respondents)
  • Employees – Private:             33% Yes, 66% No. (44% of all respondents)
  • Employees – Public:               64% Yes, 36% No. (12% of all respondents)
  • Employees – Other                64% Yes, 36% No. (9% of all respondents)

Self-categorisation was mandatory, but no proof was required so a respondent could identify as any category. As a result, the result sets may be imperfect.

It gets more interesting when we time sequence the data. Last Thursday we published the newsletter at 2 pm. In the 3 hours to 5 pm the same day, we can pretty reliably match click-through rates from the embedded link in the newsletter to responses received from the survey, suggesting the initial reactions were direct recipients of this newsletter. Asked Friday morning by one of our members how the results were tracking, my email back noted a nearly 90%:10% tilt in favour of mandatory vaccinations. The language used in the “why” responses was straightforward, pragmatic and brief, irrespective of the answer to the question of support either way.

Then things got weird when the Facebook effect cut in.

We’d shared a link to the newsletter on the Chamber’s Facebook page, and it received >400 interactions, (meaning they clicked on the post for more detail). We can’t tell who they were or where they were located. As it’s a public page, interactions could come from literally, anywhere. Analytics data on the Chambers website where the newsletter was linked matched the Facebook interactions, with a sharp lift in the newsletter/blog post readership after the Facebook post was published. On Friday morning, while we’d received zero comments on the Facebook post itself, we received more than 50% of the total survey responses in a  roughly 1.5 hour period between 8:42 am and 10:30 am. Each of them was a ‘no’ response accompanied by impassioned language in the ‘why’ section that was, in a couple of cases, almost essay-like and repeatedly emotion-charged; speaking to issues of human rights, constitutional rights, trial vaccinations, self-autonomy over vaccinations etc. The survey results also capture the internet IP address of the respondents. Using a reverse IP lookup query tool, it was easy to determine that many of the responses came from the mainland and most correlated to Melbourne. (We of course, cannot see individual results, just an approximation of the ISP location.)   My conclusion was that the link to the survey might’ve been shared on a page/site that was anti-vaccination in disposition.  We can’t ignore those responses as they’re perfectly valid, but they do skew the results and affect the relevance of the survey to Launceston based businesses, which was our intent for the survey.

So make of this what you will, but it’s an interesting exercise in survey-making.  What has come out of it, though, are a couple of additional resources worth sharing as this is clearly a contentious subject and is expected to be for some time yet. 

  • The Australian government has now (21st Sept) published a page on vaccinations in the workplace with some valuable Q&A. It’s here:
  • The CSIRO has published a science-based report that looks at vaccinations and their efficacy against the Delta Variant. It’s here:

We encourage all members to be across this issue armed with facts and information.


No jab, no job?

Over here, we’re asking a three-question, 100% anonymous survey on the topic of mandatory vaccinations. We need your opinion on the issue of compulsory vaccinations, but please, read on first…

Mandatory Vaccinations in the workplace. It’s a complex and vexed issue, but with less shifting of priorities amongst eligible vaccination groups, more access to vaccines etc., the timeline towards all businesses confronting this issue is getting shorter. As much as we’d love to keep the borders closed and stay healthy forever, the need to open up to the mainland and a few selected international routes is an economic prerequisite. Continuing a trade-before-aid theme, we can’t rely on government stimulus forever.  It does, however, make the eventual likelihood of a Delta incursion more probable. 

Against that, we can’t have an economy without public Health, and seemingly, we cant have public Health without elevated vaccination rates. It’s that simple. Mainland hospitals are full of COVID cases, the majority of which are unvaccinated. Hence, as Tasmania pushes through the 50% double vaccinated score, something else will likely be needed to move us toward the 70/80/90% we need to open up. I suspect that impetus will come from the private sector, as always; and the questions around ‘no jab, no job’ will become more persistent.

This week, two important milestones have been achieved in the fight against a Delta variant getting loose In Tassie. Yesterday, we passed through 50% of the eligible population having been double-vaccinated and earlier in the week, it became possible for anyone aged 12 or over to access a COVID-19 vaccination. With vaccine supply issues now seemingly ‘sorted’, the nation’s drive toward an 80% double vaccination rate seems suddenly more achievable. Mainland leaders’ mindset is moving from “suppression” to “living with it”, evidenced by some small restorations of personal freedoms in parts of the mainland for those who’re double vaccinated. 

Hopefully, at some point, COVID will be relegated to the same level of concern the flu gets every year. It won’t shutter businesses, alter family celebrations, or be the fuel behind angst-ridden neighbourly disputes. Someday. But for now, as we continue the climb toward Tasmania’s aspirational 90% double vaccination requirement to open the borders, we need to recognise that the Tasmanian experience has been different. Lauded as one of the safest places to be on the planet, our lives have been comparatively more straightforward than our mainland and overseas friends, especially this past winter with the ravages of the Delta variant. We’ve absolutely had fallout from decreased mainland visitation, but we’ve not had community infection now for over a year. By contrast, the eastern mainland states have been in very real, very personal lockdowns for months.  That simple fact changes everything, especially how we approach the question of mandatory vaccination.

As employers, how do we feel about imposing a mandatory vaccination requirement in the workplace? Do we even have the ability to do that? And if we do, how would we ensure it gets adhered to? The Tasmanian government has already mandated that health care workers and aged care workers must be vaccinated to enter the workplace. The list of affected roles is surprisingly large – details here. But what about in a private setting? A setting where it’s the business owner’s capital on the line, with a need to simultaneously keep the doors open, balance employee & community health, compliance requirements, and all the moral & ethical issues, while seeking to be a good employer?

Following a National Cabinet meeting on 6th August 2021, Prime Minister Morrison confirmed Australia’s policy remained that vaccines (including COVID-19 vaccines) should be voluntary and free and that in the absence of specific public health orders, an employer can only mandate that an employee be vaccinated through a lawful and reasonable direction. The Prime Minister said that ultimately employers need to consider these issues and make their own decisions appropriate to their workplace.

That’s not especially helpful…

OK, What do the legal-eagles have to say on the matter? Does an employer actually have the legal capability to compel an employee to get vaccinated in order to continue employment? An article by Sydney law firm Coors has considered it and come to the conclusion that the legal hurdles are not insurmountable, but encouragement is ultimately better than coercion. It’s a lengthy read, but it explains some of the legal reasons as to why employers might be able to take a ‘No jab, no job’ approach. 

Has anybody tried it yet? 

Yes. SPC (Shepparton) will be the first Australian company to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for staff and visitors by November 2021. Along with some other food processing companies, Qantas, Google, Facebook and Deakin University are also considering mandatory vaccinations. SPC employees have spoken of being “steam rolled” and the younger staff voiced concerns they were ineligible for Pfizer but as of this week, that much is no longer the case. 

Companies such as Wesfarmers, NAB and Commonwealth Bank of Australia are considering carrots rather than sticks to encourage vaccinations, and some mainland tech firms are providing paid leave to employees who receive the jab.

So, there’s precedent, but only amongst some very large businesses. For small to medium businesses, it’s a little more vexed.

What to do next?

  1. Initially, a review of Worksafe Tasmania’s page on the topic here is worth a read. It concludes that for most Tasmanian businesses, mandatory vaccination won’t be a requirement, but note that as at today, the page hasn’t been updated since March 2021 which was back in ‘pre-Delta’ times.  As has been oft-quoted in media , “..Delta changes everything..” 
  2. Consider a risk management and mitigation approach, emphasising positive and facilitative messaging and decision-making, rather than negative, coercive messaging and employer ultimatums. This might include:
    1. genuine worker consultation. Encouraging and then considering employee input (possibly adjusting the phasing or the timing of mandatory vaccination), may result in greater uptake of voluntary vaccinations, or less resistance to mandated policies once introduced.
    2. early announcement of your vaccination policies (including offering vaccination leave and other leave in the event adverse side effects are suffered);
    3. utilising relevant resources to disseminate accurate up-to-date information; and 
    4. other financial and non-financial incentive offerings to staff. 
  3. Also consider the position of vulnerable employees before imposing any blanket policies which may unintentionally breach federal or state privacy, discrimination or human rights laws. Employees with disabilities or medical conditions, pregnant employees and visa holders, may have difficulty readily accessing vaccinations even if they are eligible. Even if (eventual) vaccine mandates become lawful, facilitative measures are more likely to be more effective initially. 

As you can appreciate, it’s a complex and probably inescapable decision that needs to be contemplated by business owners soon. If you’re seeking advice, we recommend that you contact any of the following Chamber members for advice.

Simmons Wolfhagen

Bishops -Barristers and Solicitors

Rae & Partners

Quartz Consulting

And a reminder: Over here, we’re asking a three-question, 100% anonymous survey on the topic of mandatory vaccinations. We need your opinion on the issue of compulsory vaccinations to inform our policy and advocacy position.


Feast your eyes on this…

Earlier this week, Launceston Gastronomy officially launched its bid to join the ranks of UNESCO’s creative cities network – a collection of 250 Cities globally that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development. The cities which currently make up this network work together towards a common objective: placing creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans at the local level and cooperating actively at the international level. Unsurprisingly, Launceston’s bid has its roots in the gastronomic virtues of the region.

Gastronomy: To grow, cook & serve. A philosophy that underpins the paddock to plate phenomenon that has become so popular worldwide in recent years, but Launceston’s bid goes beyond that. More ‘soil-to-stomach’ or ‘grape to glass’; it embodies the whole relationship between food and local culture, the art of growing, preparing and serving food, the cooking styles of our region, and the science of good eating.

This bid is remarkable and worthy of the city’s support, but not because it helps to connect Northern Tasmania to the world via food, which it does. And not just because it positions Launceston as one of the great regional food cities of the world, which it also does. And not even because it provides a platform for food sustainability in a mixed agricultural and urban context. It does all of that and creates an interplay between local agriculture in our Tamar Valley backyard; agriscience that combines the best of agriculture partnering with a start-up ecosystem of technologists and educators; hospitality that thrives with the abundance of local produce; and destination tourism that underpins a vibrant visitor economy – all hallmarks of a growing and thriving city. It’s a lesson in collaboration and focuses some of our most experienced business and community leaders around a shared goal, and that’s great for our city.

Looking externally, UNESCO’s endorsement of Launceston as a Creative City of Gastronomy will provide entrance to a network of like-minded cities, a hive-mind to solve complex problems around the world’s many food security issues. Fingers crossed for a favourable outcome! As the world emerges from a post-COVID stupor, the benefits accrue beyond Launceston, and we have a role to play.


Why do we have to wait…?

The City of Launceston’s City Heart 2 project is out for public consultation at the moment, but only until this Friday, so you’ll need to respond quickly if you want to have your say. There’s not one bit of it we don’t applaud. It continues the People, Place and Lifestyle masterplan adopted some years ago; and builds on it to deliver a city centre that will be more attractive, more accessible, more walkable, and much more liveable. It’ll be a City Heart for which Launceston will be famous and will truly contribute to our vision for Launceston to be one of the great regional cities of the world.

Aside from traffic changes, an overt urban greening program is a noticeable feature of City Heart 2. Until this, urban trees and green spaces have been neglected aspects of urban amenity and liveability; yet the best streets in the best cities are usually tree-lined. Trees in cities centres encourage foot traffic, create economic activity, and increase property value. They provide shade, help moderate temperature, and beautify cityscapes by softening the hard edges and hard surfaces. Established street trees are a great asset to any city, so the Chamber is working with the City of Launceston, technical experts at UTAS, and Cityprom to build momentum for a more aspirational program of city greening.  We encourage future CBD regeneration projects to invest heavily in street trees in St John St and Cameron St. Street Trees that are appropriate, that don’t cause footpaths to be broken and dangerous and remain green all year round. Can you imagine how wonderful it would be to walk through a green corridor linking City Park to Civic Square and onward to Royal Park. Wouldn’t that be something?

While patience may be a virtue, when it comes to improving our city, it’s not a virtue we possess. Three years is just too long to wait. There are circumstances outside the Councils immediate control, but we urge them to do all things necessary to bring forward the scheduled commencement of the City Heart 2 project.


Casual Conversations…

With the firehose of terrible news gushing from the mainland and its COVID lockdowns, human misery in Afghanistan and localised business downturns across some sectors, you could be forgiven for having missed a critical HR decision handed down by the High Court of Australia recently. It’s important because of the increasing casualisation of the workforce and by an increase in underemployment; trends that have increased over the past 18 months as employers have had to grapple with changing economic conditions. Sectors such as Hospitality, Tourism, Agriculture, Arts & Events rely on armies of casual employees and may not be across the newest legislation.

The detailed findings of the ruling are here as interpreted by law firm Minter Ellison. It’s a longish read, but its theme is that casual employees need and have a right to predictability in the employment contracts issued at the commencement of employment. At first, that seems at odds with the whole idea of ‘casual’ employees, right?  The devil is in the details. It’s not about the predictability of shift entitlements; it’s about predictability in the nature of the employee engagement. Very meta!

The recommendations for those who employ casuals are to review those employees’ contracts to ensure they satisfy the casual definition test. They should contemplate matters such as:

  • Written contracts with a specific casual engagement statement – Employers might provide a written employment offer for casual employees and include a statement such as, “This is an offer of casual employment, as such we are unable to give you a firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work”.
  • Expressly state that a casual loading is being paid and what it covers – within the written casual contract, include a statement such as, ” a casual loading is being paid in lieu of all entitlements that would otherwise apply if the employee were not a casual. This includes, but is not limited to, personal and annual leave.”
  • Casual loading is separately identified in payments – is advisable that you can clearly identify that a casual loading has been paid within the remuneration and as such there is no entitlement to leave payments. Ideally this should have been stated within the initial employment letter and preferably a casual loading payment should be identified in the employee’s payslip advice.    

This comment is provided for the benefit of Chamber members, but we encourage you to consult with an HR professional or employment law specialist to ensure your contracts are adequate. 

Chamber Platinum Member, Simmons Wolfhagen Lawyers, have a team of experienced employment lawyers.

Chamber Gold Member, Bishops Barristers + Solicitors, offer employment law services.

Chamber Gold Member, Quartz Consulting are your local, leading provider of workplace relations consultancy services.


Damned if you do…

There’s a comprehensive article in the Examiner today about the legal battle over the acquisition of the Paterson Street central car park site. A year on from the Creative Precinct’s announcement, there’s still a car park there and no sign of that changing anytime soon.

An artist’s impression of the Launceston Creative Precinct

Without doubt, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes and ultimately, you have to let these legal processes run their course. Frustrating as it is, the Chamber would never endorse a position where the current owners receive a return on their investment less than it’s worth, but equally, there’s that and holding up progress. It’s hard to see a solution that doesn’t somehow wind up costing the City more than anticipated; and they’ll be pilloried if it does…  We KNOW they want progress as much as anybody else but they’re between a rock & a hard place. Any one of the options – a protracted lengthy legal battle, a cave-in to an inflated purchase price, or any other solution exposes Council to cost blowouts… but what is the price of progress?

You see, it’s not just about the car park… It’s about what it unleashes… It’s the relocation of the bus stops in St John Street to a newly created Bus Terminal on that car park, It’s the pedestrian thoroughfare between Paterson St and The Mall, it’s the opening up of St John St with the City Heart 2 project and associated greening & traffic calming initiatives; it’s the Creative Precinct that positions Launceston as a city of arts; it’s the pent-up private capital investment that’s wanting to invest and reinvigorate the Launceston CBD… It’s all the things we want for Launceston and the car park acquisition is the Keystone. 

We wish Council nothing but success here. We need Council to prevail – If it’s not solved soon, impatient investors will look further afield for opportunities and Launceston will be worse for it.


Trending changes: Mental Health in the Workplace

Commissioned by Atlassian Corporation and conducted by PwC Australia, the second annual Return On Action Report shows the extent to which expectations of employers have changed, with 77 per cent saying that businesses should speak up on societal issues, up 10 per cent on last year’s iteration of the same report. Notably, workers are prioritising their mental health more than ever before with measurable shifts attributed to work/life changes bought on by the pandemic

Mental health first

  • Over 50 percent of employees surveyed say they’d consider changing jobs to access remote work opportunities, and even more are willing to forego a promotion to safeguard their mental health. Takeaway: To attract and retain suitable employees, access to flexible work arrangements will become normalised.
  • More than 60 percent of workers also want their employers to take action on social and environmental issues like climate change, equality, and poverty. Takeaway: These are no longer just societal issues. Employers are increasingly expected to be part of the solution if they hope to attract quality talent.
  • The report shows that ‘mental health and wellness’ has overtaken ‘cost of living’ as the number one concern of employees, whereas it only ranked in fourth place in 2020. Takeaway: This change suggests that the majority of workers have shifted from a “live to work” to a “work to live” mindset.

“The consequences of inaction are very real. We’re in a global war for talent and employees want change,” Scott Farquhar, co-founder and co-CEO of Atlassian, said. “There have never been higher expectations on business, and how we respond as leaders is crucial. If this groundswell of support for action is ignored, it will open businesses up to the risk of alienating the emerging workforce.” 

So, given those shifts in perception, what can you/we/us be doing about it as employers? Where do you start? There are a number of local resources available you immediately:

  • For you and your staff:  a Free resource from The Mental Health Council of Tasmania. It’s a wayfinder to help locate and access all sorts of resources to create and support a mentally healthy workplace.
  • Knowing what you don’t know and then closing the gaps is a great place to start also. Head 4 Work is a resource free to Tasmanian registered businesses:
  • If you’re in the Hospitality sector – checkout a resource created and delivered by Bianca Welsh (Bbhavsc) from Stillwater and Black Cow Bistro, (and of course, Chamber Board member)

TEMT: A vision at last

We’re pleased to see that the Tamar Estuary Management Taskforce (TEMT) vision has been released and are pleased with the initial results. The Chamber has been advocating for some time, a vision that delivers ‘triple bottom line’ value – economic, community and environmental benefit, and we believe this vision is a great start. The report has collated the science gathered over many years to outline a strategic path to a better, healthier estuary with improved utility, replacing the ad-hoc efforts of years past.  kanamaluka/Tamar River is part of the fabric of Launceston and its inhabitants want to see real action to restore and improve the estuary.

This is a great opportunity to create a world-class wetland experience that compliments the natural beauty of the Cataract Gorge and the Tamar Island Wetlands. Please click here to see the vision.

The question now will be how best to deliver that vision? 

The question contemplates TEMT’s ability to bring it to fruition. Likely (hopefully?) to be funded under the City Deal second stage we’ll be advocating to ensure that an appropriately resourced authority is established that builds on TEMT’s vision and to contract and legislate for its achievement.  The Federal and State Governments now need to commit to this plan and ensure funding is consistent and sustained so that work can be undertaken strategically.


Launceston – where all the cool kids are coming

You may have heard us say it before… the Chamber’s view is that Launceston will inevitably take its place as a Great Regional City of the World. A superior place to work, live, play & invest.

Well, it seems we’re not the only ones… While the mainland grapples yet again with COVID lockdowns and closures, Tasmania’s perception as a safe haven continues to rise and Launceston made it into the top 5 of the Regional Movers Index, a document created and maintained by the Regional Australia Institute. (Full report here). It measures population outflows from capital cities to the regions and vice versa. In it, Launceston recorded the highest quarter on quarter growth of any of the surveyed cities – showing a nett increase in the March ’21 Quarter of 88%. Year on Year growth is a more moderate 34% but still a very significant figure. 

As a relative newcomer, I can attest to the fact that Launceston’s allure is a unique mix of heritage and forward-looking entrepreneurism served up with a healthy dose of self-assured confidence. A city where there’s opportunity, you can get things done; and with none of the congestion, agro and hassles of big-city living. Scratch the surface and there’s a LOT more going on than you first imagined. No wonder our numbers are up…

The attraction of skilled migration to Northern Tasmania has been a bugbear for some time. This new information seems to suggest that the problem is morphing, but where are we going to put these people? Property prices are rising sharply in response to increased demand, and chamber members in the property management field, report long lists of quality and eager tenants seeking, yet unable to secure appropriate accommodation.  Building approvals are up, yet access to new land releases is becoming more difficult. Finding trades is a challenge – their order books are full. Add in access to materials stymied by supply-chain issues and you get build costs escalating quickly; all of which is becoming a disincentive to investment.  We’ll be taking all this up with the Premier in the coming week.

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