The Case for a National Scheme for Paid Vaccination Leave

Key points

  1. As millions of doses arrive in Australia over coming months, policymakers will increasingly need to focus on ensuring demand for vaccines matches the increasing vaccine supply.
  2. Paid vaccination leave has been adopted in other jurisdictions as a means of increasing the speed of the vaccine rollout
  3. The cost of paid vaccination leave would be lower than the cost of further delays to the vaccine rollout

Australia lags the rest of the world in its COVID-19 vaccine rollout. For the time being this is mostly explained by issues of supply, with the Commonwealth conceding that supply is the biggest constraint on the speed of the rollout.

However, it is expected that supply will rapidly increase in coming months. The Government has secured 20 million doses of Pfizer, and 25 million doses of Moderna, to be delivered over the coming months . The National Vaccination Allocation Horizons further explains the planned ramp-up.

National Vaccination Allocation Horizons, as per 17 June 2021
Source: Australian Government Department of Health

Governments must consider issues of demand and specific policy initiatives to encourage vaccinations. Following on from our earlier recommendation for the introduction of Paid Pandemic Leave, The McKell Institute urges governments to consider offering Paid Vaccination Leave. Foreign governments and business have recognised the need to offer paid vaccination leave. The leave entitlement would be a simple means of removing a key barrier to getting vaccinated– finding the time to do it.

Other nations have introduced paid vaccination leave or other incentives

The Morrison Government has offered $11 million for the provision of paid leave for aged care workers to get vaccinated. The McKell Institute believes that this is an overdue step, and now is the time to consider a broader paid vaccination leave scheme.

Australians who made super withdrawals have foregone this market gain

In Canada, seven out of 10 provinces have introduced some form of COVID-19 vaccination leave.[i] For instance, British Columbia offers three hours of paid leave for each vaccination dose.[ii] These provisions were introduced in the first few months of 2021, and the changes were made by modifying the employment standards across the different jurisdictions

Paid vaccination leave has been introduced in Belgium. Upon presentation of the appointment details, the employee is entitled to paid leave for ‘the period necessary to get vaccinated’.[iii]

In the United States, the Biden Administration announced a paid leave tax credit to incentivise employers to give paid leave for employees to get vaccinated. The credit was available to all employers with fewer than 500 employees. In addition, some states, such as New York and California, have amended their laws to include paid vaccination leave.[iv]

Sick and personal leave cannot be used for a COVID-19 vaccination

It is the view of academics,[v] and the Fair Work Ombudsman,[vi] that as it stands, paid sick/personal leave cannot be used for the purpose of attending a COVID-19 vaccination. As such, workers are reliant on their annual leave to take a COVID-19 shot. Workers may be hesitant to do so, noting that the usual purpose of annual leave is supposed to be for vacations and family gatherings.

Paid vaccination leave would reduce ‘vaccine inequality’

In the United States it has already been observed that wealthier populations are more likely to be vaccinated than poorer populations.[vii] As such, governments in Australia can expect that, without specific policy responses, such a divide would emerge in the absence of interventions such as paid vaccination leave. The McKell Institute has already noted in several reports the prevalence of insecure work. As such, specific policy measures should be introduced in order to encourage vaccination.

The cost would be much lower than the cost of further delay to the vaccine rollout

The McKell Institute has previously estimated calculated the economic cost of the delayed vaccine rollout at upwards of $16.4 billion.

Even if paid vaccination leave took the form of the Federal government directly compensating all employees at the average hourly wage, it would cost no more than $1.8 billion. However, that figure is likely to be a conservative upper bound for the cost of the program, as a fraction of all workers will seek time off, and it can be expected that some proportion of businesses will offer leave of their own accord.

As such, the potential costs of a paid vaccination leave program are small compared to the costs of further delays to the vaccine rollout.

Recommendations

  1. Amend the National Employment Standards to allow for the taking of personal/carer’s leave to attend a COVID-19 vaccination.
  2. Offer a paid leave payment to casual workers, independent contracts and insecure workers who are not covered by the National Employment Standards.
  3. Federal and State governments should lead by example and offer paid vaccination leave to their own employees.

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[i] https://www.mondaq.com/canada/employee-rights-labour-relations/1072036/covid-19-vaccination-leaves-which-provinces-require-employers-to-provide-paid-time-off

[ii] https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/employment-business/employment-standards-advice/employment-standards/time-off/taking-unexpected-time-off#:~:text=You%20can%20take%20up%20to,long%20they%20have%20been%20employed.

[iii] https://www.simmons-simmons.com/en/publications/ckmq634ns1pu80a54739efixi/paid-leave-for-covid-19-vaccination-appointments-in-belgium

[iv] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/state-and-local-updates/pages/new-york-employees-are-entitled-to-paid-time-off-for-covid-19-vaccinations.aspx#:~:text=The%20new%20law%20provides%20that,%2Dinjection%20COVID%2D19%20vaccine, https://www.natlawreview.com/article/covid-19-california-extends-covid-19-supplement-paid-sick-leave-and-includes

[v] https://theconversation.com/do-i-get-time-off-work-for-my-covid-shot-can-i-take-a-sick-day-161279

[vi] https://coronavirus.fairwork.gov.au/coronavirus-and-australian-workplace-laws/covid-19-vaccinations-and-the-workplace/covid-19-vaccinations-workplace-rights-and-obligations#employee-travel-costs-or-time-off-work

[vii] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-56405199

[viii] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/21/health/vaccination-young-adults.html

[ix] Calculated based on average hourly wage of $45.04, and 13,010,000 employed Australians and 3 hours of paid vaccination leave.