Unvaccinated Australians who have lost their jobs for refusing to comply with Covid vaccine mandates are using social media to find and share employment opportunities at workplaces where the new rules are not being enforced.
Telegram and Facebook have had an influx of people searching for paid jobs after states and territories implemented mandates covering a range of industries from health and aged care workers, teachers and police to construction and hospitality workers.
On some job boards, businesses that are happy to accept unvaccinated people advertise that they are “welcoming of everyone”.
Beauty therapists, childcare workers, disability support workers and accountants are among 20,000 people who are members of the largest Facebook group for unvaccinated jobseekers in Australia.
Ash Heap is an electrician from Geelong who refuses to get vaccinated. “I’m left in a position where I’ve lost my career of 20 years,” he said.
“I don’t really have a lot of options. I was given a small business grant which will see me through for another month but there’s no income.”
He owns a house with his partner, who also looks set to lose her job. The pair are hoping the mandate will be dropped.
“We’ll probably have to rent the house and find work anywhere, doing cash jobs, doing whatever.”
Each state and territory has implemented its own rules on mandates.
Victoria has one of the most wide-ranging vaccine mandates, which came into effect last month and covers about 1.25 million people.
Last week Western Australia announced it would roll out a mandate across multiple industries, including teachers and supermarket staff, representing 75% of the state’s workforce.
New South Wales has a mandate in place for some sectors but from 1 December is set to allow the same freedoms for unvaccinated citizens, bar international travel. The mandate for high-risk workers will remain in place.
Julian Melvin has been sifting through jobs ads since he lost his work as an arborist because he won’t get the vaccine. He says mainly odd jobs are on offer.
“A lot of them it’s like ‘I need my lawns mowed’ … cash work here and there,” he said. “There are some businesses saying we’ll employ you but how many people are unemployed versus how many people need work?”
According to the latest data from the Melbourne Institute, vaccine hesitancy across Australia has been steadily falling from a peak of 33% in May, to 11.8% on 21 October.
Hesitancy remained the highest in South Australia (17.9%) followed by Queensland (16.4%) and WA (15.6%).
Vaccine hesitancy was much lower in Victoria (8.2%) and in NSW (10%), as well as in the other smaller states and territories (8.4% in the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania and the Northern Territory combined). More than 90% of people aged 16 and over in NSW, Victoria and the ACT have received at least one jab.
Steve, who did not give his last name, runs Get it Fast Auto Glass in Sunshine. He has been advertising his company on a directory of businesses not requiring staff or clients to be vaccinated.
The only other staff member is his wife, and he said he would tell his customers he was unvaccinated if they asked.
“I’m not against vaccines, I’m against people making me do it,” Steve said. “I don’t like someone getting forced to do it.”
The managing principal of FCW Lawyers, Andrew Douglas, said if an industry fell under a government mandate, it was not possible to challenge it. But some employees were arguing they can work from home to avoid having to comply.
“We’re starting to see a lot of people going, ‘I can work from home,’” Douglas said. “We’re starting to see a lot of people bring medical evidence.”
At the same time, more businesses were asking for advice on implementing their own Covid jab mandate to avoid losing clients. “We’re now starting to get employers who are saying we’ve got a problem, no one will come to our sites with unvaccinated people.”
The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive, Paul Guerra, said one of the biggest challenges was the risk of businesses losing staff.
“It is up to the individual and their employer whether work can be adapted to be done at home,” Guerra said.
“After two long, hard years for Victorian businesses, our primary concern right now is getting back up and running and having a bumper summer trading period.”
Another emerging issue for employees who are vaccinated is whether they feel safe working alongside those who have not got the jab, said an associate lecturer in law at Monash University, Liam Elphick.
“Employers have obligations under work safety laws to prevent against workplace risk, not just address it when it happens,” Elphick said.
Covid safety was likely to become “the main arena” of disputes going forward, he said, as vaccinated employees made sure all the necessary checks and balances, including vaccines, were put in place.
“Anyone has the ability to raise concerns about an unsafe workplace,” he said.