In the state of Victoria in Australia, ambulance workers who were fired simply for being unvaccinated against Covid-19 have decided to fight back and challenge the mass layoff.
Unvaccinated ambulance workers, including over two dozen paramedics, were recently notified that their employment with Ambulance Victoria would end soon. Ambulance Victoria is the main state agency responsible for handling ambulance services and pre-hospital emergency care.
According to the state’s vaccine mandate, all Ambulance Victoria employees were required to receive the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in October earlier this year.
The following month, those who remained unvaccinated were required to provide an explanation as to why they refused to comply with the mandate. Employees who remained adamant in their refusal were then forced into taking leaves and asked to “consider their future positions.”
A spokeswoman for Ambulance Victoria said: “Having carefully considered all individual circumstances, unvaccinated staff have been notified that their employment with Ambulance Victoria will end, including 25 paramedics.”
Only six of the service’s more than 4,000 employees have been granted exemptions to the vaccine mandate.
At least two dozen workers of Ambulance Victoria have filed a case in the Fair Work Commission (FWC) against their employer. The FWC is the main Australian body that handles disputes between workers and their employers.
According to the Ambulance Victoria workers, their termination went beyond the state’s vaccine mandate policy. In a statement, lawyers for the workers said that at least 29 people have either been forced to resign or “coerced into compliance” to keep their jobs.
“We were called heroes last year,” said paramedic Jessica Davis. “This year we’re accused of serious misconduct and our employment is terminated.” Davis added that she believes her employer has overstepped its authority as, according to Victoria Chief Health Officer (CHO) Dr. Brett Sutton, vaccine mandates do not require all unvaccinated employees to comply.
“Staff that have been working from home for the last 18 months are now fired because [Ambulance Victoria] states they must be able to enter workplace premises,” said Davis. “This goes beyond the CHO’s directions.”
So far, Ambulance Victoria has fired at least 23 of its employees. According to Davis, dozens more unvaccinated workers are scheduled to meet with their bosses one last time, where they will then either be coerced into taking the jab or be fired on the spot.
Davis said that she and many of her unvaccinated co-workers have been mocked and shamed when they tried to reach out for support to retain their jobs at Ambulance Victoria.
Benedict Coyne, one of the lawyers representing Davis and other unvaccinated workers, has requested an interim order preventing any changes to their employment status ahead of a conciliation meeting with Ambulance Victoria executives. If this meeting fails, Coyne wants the interim order to remain in place until arbitration talks with either the FWC or another government authority.
The case is ongoing.
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