One in two transport workers in essential industries like freight, public transport and distribution have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 according to a new survey which shows the failures in Australia’s pandemic response.
The survey of over 1,200 truckies, bus drivers, couriers, distribution workers and rideshare drivers found that only 14% of respondents were fully vaccinated, while only 32% had received one jab. Only 2% were assisted by their employer to get their vaccination.
Over half of respondents had not received their first vaccination. Around one third identified limited availability or appointment times as key barriers, while many noted it was too difficult to book appointments in advance due to irregular work patters and unknown rosters. Confusing information and changing government health advice were other common reasons for being unvaccinated.
Over three quarters of surveyed workers do not feel safe working in COVID hotspots because of the risk of contracting the virus and infecting their families, while 57% fear losing pay if forced to self-isolate.
Almost two thirds of truck driver respondents were unvaccinated, despite half working in COVID hot spots. 90% of truckies have not been offered paid vaccination leave by their employers, making organising a vaccination appointment even more difficult.
Fatigue is the leading cause of truck crash deaths, yet over half of interstate truck drivers reported difficulties finding open truck stops to rest, get a hot meal or have a shower. Around one third reported being told to self-isolate in their truck, while almost half said they’ve had to spend hours queueing for covid tests.
Confusing border pass information, testing requirements and exposure sites at truck and bus depots have also meant many transport workers have lost out on work.
Vaccination rates among bus drivers sits at 46%, with less than 2% assisted by their employer to get their jabs. Bus drivers in COVID hotspot areas reported tight timetables which do not allow for sufficient cleaning of buses, while many face abuse for enforcing mask rules.
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said “The results of this survey show in black and white the failures in Australia’s vaccination response. Without transport workers, the pandemic response would grind to a halt, but many are unvaccinated because the Federal Government failed to prioritise them, or ensure adequate support and leave provisions so workers can get vaccinated without losing pay.
“We’re constantly reminded the virus doesn’t move on its own, but transport workers are perhaps at the greatest risk of contracting and transmitting the virus. These workers should have been prioritised and support to get vaccinated from day one of the rollout.
“Transport workers are severely under the pump. They have met unprecedented demand over the last 18 months because they understand our communities rely on them. Wealthy retailers, manufactures and oil companies at the top of supply chains have raked in the profits by loading transport workers up with work, but have washed their hands of responsibility to ensure the workers they rely on can do their jobs safely.
“No worker should have to choose between putting food on the table and getting vaccinated. If we’re going to beat this virus, we need a national plan to prioritise essential transport workers and provide paid vaccination leave.”
A recent TWU survey also found that one in two aviation workers are not vaccinated against COVID-19, despite recent exposure being linked to returned travellers and cabin crew. Limited appointment availability and inflexible work arrangements were common reasons for being unvaccinated.
On being vaccinated: “Can’t understand why transport workers are not on the list of people to be vaccinated, along with emergency workers. If anyone is going to spread it from one area to another, it’s transport workers”.
A bus driver on their employer’s reaction to their vaccination side effects: “Called out by my manager over running late. It was the day after my AZ shot and I wasn’t well. It was a 5am start and was unable to call in sick with adequate time for replacement”.
A partially vaccinated bus driver who organised their vaccine themselves on work anxiety: “Picking up travellers from the airport, not knowing where they are coming from”.
Impact of lockdowns on rideshare drivers: “Reduced earnings during lockdowns. My income roughly halved… it was OK when I was getting JobKeeper, but not eligible for government assistance now”.