Aviation staff working on international flights will have to be vaccinated under a NSW public health order that sent the industry scrambling ahead of its Monday deadline amid fears it would apply to domestic flights too.
After authorities identified a limousine driver transporting international aircrew as the most likely source of the outbreak that has locked down Sydney, Health Minister Brad Hazzard signed a public health order on Friday requiring people who work at airports to be vaccinated, despite not all airport workers being eligible for the vaccine yet.
It came into effect on Monday and requires people working at airports to have at least had their first coronavirus vaccination dose, backed by fines of up to $11,000 for individuals and $55,000 for companies, which have to check their staff have been vaccinated.
A document published by NSW Health says almost all airport workers are included, naming airport staff, engineers, ramp workers and baggage handlers among others, prompting concerns not enough staff had been vaccinated to keep flights functioning. However, another provision appears to restrict that requirement to those servicing flights from overseas.
The Transport Workers Union, which represents airport ground staff, was not briefed by NSW Health over the weekend on which workers had to be vaccinated.
“[The health order] is a muddle of jargon, which is practically indecipherable in its coverage of workers,” national secretary Michael Kaine said.
A spokesman for Qantas said the health order applies only to customer-facing staff at the Sydney International Airport, with domestic staff and those flying to New Zealand unaffected. Qantas has been encouraging all staff to be vaccinated and has enough vaccinated workers already to service its minimal international schedule of repatriation flights and freight services, the spokesman said.
Virgin declined to comment on the record but it has suspended regular international flights, leaving its operations also largely unchanged by the new rules.