Virgin Australia has begun talks with unions, employees, and safety committees regarding compulsory employee vaccinations. Under the proposed policy, Virgin Australia’s frontline team members must get vaccinated by 15 November 2021 and all office-based team members by 31 March 2022.
A growing band of airlines mandating vaccinations
If Virgin Australia can get the various interest groups onboard, it will be the third major Australian airline to mandate employee vaccinations. The Qantas Group and Alliance Airlines have already laid down the law about employee vaccinations.
“The majority of our team at Virgin Australia are already vaccinated, and we will be listening to our team members to ensure we find the best fit policy for our organization,” said Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka on Monday.
“We will now commence discussing the proposed vaccination requirement in detail with our team through our internal safety committees, unions, and other appropriate forums.”
Airline CEOs take the vaccination initiative
Like competitors Qantas, Rex, and Jetstar, Virgin Australia is down to operating a skeleton schedule. While vaccination rates are rapidly ramping up in Australia (about 34% of the population is now fully vaccinated) and a November 70% vaccination target remains on track to be met, movement restrictions are proving debilitating for Australia’s airlines.
Alongside Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, Ms Hrdlicka sees vaccinations as the way out. Like many Australia-based CEOs, Jayne Hrdlicka is taking the initiative.
“Vaccination is the only solution to the situation Australia currently finds itself in, and something we have determined is vital to keep our team safe, given the high public exposure most of them encounter day to day.”
Australian airline workers are broadly in favor of vaccinations
Virgin Australia cites an employee survey that found 75% of their frontline employees have had at least one of the two required needles. A further 9% of the frontline workforce are registered to get their first vaccination.
While there are some holdouts, most Australians favor vaccinations. Industries with high levels of frontline workers – retail, hospitality, and airlines, for instance, are becoming increasingly assertive about the need for their workforces to be vaccinated.
Qantas requires its frontline workers to be vaccinated by mid-November. When announcing the policy in mid-August, Alan Joyce said 89% of its workforce had already been vaccinated or were planning to be. In a survey of Qantas customers, 92% of respondents said they expected Qantas crews to get vaccinated.
High hopes for a busy summer of flying
Australia’s airlines are counting on travel restrictions unraveling once the target 70% vaccination rate is met in Australia. If the November target holds firm, Virgin Australia and its competitor airlines hope for a bumper summer flying season.
Based on this expectation, Qantas is hoping to resume some international flying in December. Last week, Virgin Australia confirmed another nine Boeings would join its fleet over the next six months.
Jayne Hrdlicka says the extra planes were needed to “ensure we’re ready to ramp up flying and meet the pent-up demand for domestic travel as soon as the opportunity presents itself.”
But it all hinges on vaccinations. With the Australian Federal Government keen to start re-opening the country once the 70% target is met, several grandstanding State Governments may continue to resist lifting movement restrictions. That may see the oddball situation where a Sydney-based resident can fly to Singapore this summer but not to Surfers Paradise.
As a solely domestic airline, that kind of scenario may present some challenges for Virgin Australia. But the signs are leading CEOs like Jayne Hrdlicka and Alan Joyce are beginning to amp up the pressure to push for a relatively trouble-free summer of flying.
If all goes well getting its workforce vaccinated, there will be no problems with Virgin Australia’s vaccinated flight crews crossing borders, moving through airports, and laying over.
Virgin Australia will announce a final policy in September.