Qantas is joining a growing number of airlines that will require all staff to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Frontline employees – including cabin crew, pilots and airport workers – will need to be fully
vaccinated by November 15 ad the remainder of employees by March 31 next year.
There will be exemptions for those who are unable for documented medical reasons to be vaccinated, which is expected to be very rare, the airline says.
"If employees are deciding not to get the jab, then they are deciding that aviation isn't for them," Qantas Group chief executive Alan Joyce told a briefing
United Airlines and Cathay Pacific are among airlines requiring staff to get the jab or risk losing their jobs.
Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said about 80 per cent of its frontline staff (about half its workforce) was fully vaccinated and this was growing without making it compulsory.
''I'm not too sure that I need to force someone who works in a call centre to go and get a vaccine. I am keen that anyone on the front line gets a vaccine, we're pretty close to achieving at and I think Air New Zealand has the right tone and we're getting really compliance.''
International crew had even higher rates of vaccination and Foran said he wasn't aware of any issues of supply for those seeking the jab.
''By and large we've done a good job of it.''
On New Zealand's vaccination programme across the general population, Foran said New Zealand had followed the same path as countries which earlier largely had Covid under control. Vaccinaton rates were slower than other countires where the virus was rampant.
''People will be saying we should have been doing it quicker and the answer to that is 'probably' but it is what it is,'' said Foran.
Announcing the policy today, Joyce said having a fully vaccinated workforce would safeguard not only staff but also protect customers and the communities the airline flies to.
The policy follows consultation with Qantas and Jetstar employees, including a survey sent to 22,000 people to seek their views on vaccination.
The 12,000 responses received makes it one of the biggest single surveys on this topic in Australia. The results showed that of those who responded:
•89 per cent had already been vaccinated or are planning to be.
•4 per cent were unwilling or unable to get the jab.
• Around three-quarters think it should be a requirement for all employees to be vaccinated and would be concerned if other employees in the workplace weren't vaccinated.
Thousands of aviation workers supporting international flights in New South Wales, South Australia and New Zealand are already required to be vaccinated by those jurisdictions.
"One crew member can fly into multiple cities and come into contact with thousands of people in a single day. Making sure they are vaccinated given the potential of this virus to spread is so important and I think it's the kind of safety leadership people would expect from us,'' said Joyce.
"It's clear that vaccinations are the only way to end the cycle of lockdowns and border closures and for a lot of Qantas and Jetstar employees that means getting back to work again.''
The response to the survey was one of the largest to any study the airline had conducted, even with thousands of our people stood down, which it said showed just how important this was for them.
"Since vaccines became available, we've strongly encouraged all of our people to get the jab and are offering paid time off to get it done. We were really pleased to see from the survey that more than three-quarters of those who responded have already rolled up their sleeve at least once and 60 per cent have had both jabs,'' said Joyce.
Many staff said they would feel concerned about working with unvaccinated colleagues, which is something that many workplaces across Australia were grappling with.
"We understand there will be a very small number of people who decide not to get the vaccine, and that's their right, but it's our responsibility to provide the safest possible environment for our employees and for our customers," said Joyce.
Further discussions will take place with employees, their health and safety representatives and unions over the coming weeks on the detail of the policy, including how medical exemptions will be applied.
In a separate survey of more than 1000 Qantas customers, 92 per cent said they expect Qantas crew to be fully vaccinated.
Among verbatim comments from employees in support of vaccinations::
''It should be compulsory as a condition for employment.
''I don't want to work with anyone that has not had it. Why should I come to work and have other co-workers that come make me sick?
''My employer has a duty of care. All employees need to be safe in the workplace. All employees walk past each other. We all have to be safe.
''It is not something I would have normally done but happy to do for a safe workplace and if it keeps me and my family safe.
''I fully support everyone being vaccinated so we can open the domestic and international borders again."
The spread of the delta strain of Covid-19 in Australia has caused chaos for domestic air travel which, as in New Zealand, had been recovering strongly. Both countries have re-opening aspirations, largely based on high numbers of the entire population being vaccinated.
In June Cathay Pacific said that all Hong Kong-based pilots and flight attendants would need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by August 31 or risk losing their jobs.
Cathay said it had struggled with staff rostering due to Hong Kong's strict quarantine rules but these were loosened for crew that have been vaccinated. There are also requirements that only fully vaccinated crews can operate to certain high-risk destinations and on quarantine-free "bubble" flights.