From groceries and hardware to cattle and clothes, freight workers play a crucial role in keeping the Northern Territory open for business.
- Freight workers must receive their first COVID-19 vaccine dose by November 1 or risk losing their jobs
- There are concerns some workers will refuse to get vaccinated by the deadline
- An industry spokeswoman says a resulting staff shortage would disrupt supply chains
But the NT government’s vaccine deadline for the industry is fast approaching.
From Monday, freight workers who have refused to get at least one COVID vaccine dose could lose their jobs or be blocked from carrying goods into the Territory.
And there are fears it will hurt supply chains.
Louise Bilato is the executive officer of the Northern Territory Road Transport Association, which represents all sectors within the NT transport industry, including suppliers and affiliated businesses as well as owner-operators.
Ms Bilato said if there was a shortage of staff because some workers declined to get vaccinated, then “freight doesn’t get in”.
“It would affect probably every aspect of our freight, from perishables [to] food supplies, fuel into communities and what comes on Australia Post,” she said.
“We are hopeful that won’t be the case … there are major supply chain issues, not just in Australia but internationally, that are impacting on freight service delivery and delivery timeframes.”
Unlike most other NT workers, who have been ordered to receive at least one dose by November 12 and their second dose by December 24, freight workers were given an earlier deadline.
Instead, all freight workers entering and working in the NT must have received at least one vaccine dose by November 1 and two doses by December 13.
Ms Bilato said if a portion of the workforce chose not to get vaccinated and could not be moved into alternative positions, the industry would struggle to replace them, especially in the long term.
“There is a very significant majority who are already fully vaccinated in the industry,” she said.
“But like every other industry, it has a portion of [the] workforce who have been hesitant to take up the vaccination, as well as those who are declining for their own reasons.”
Earlier this month, the NT government issued a legal direction mandating workers in a broad range of settings receive their COVID-19 vaccine within a month.
Relevant employees who are not vaccinated will not be permitted to attend their workplace and could face a $5,000 fine.
The NT’s Health Minister Natasha Fyles said freight workers were part of a national code of practice, which had been followed throughout the pandemic.
“There has been work across the jurisdiction to make sure that our freight drivers who potentially could bring COVID into communities have been adhering to the strictest clinical guidelines but also being practical about that.”