WA businesses face closures as staff refuse jab

Out of her hands: Kellie Tigchelaar at her Prevelly venue, The Sea Garden Cafe. Photo: Nicky Lefebvre
Out of her hands: Kellie Tigchelaar at her Prevelly venue, The Sea Garden Cafe. Photo: Nicky Lefebvre

As the deadline for the majority of WA workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 draws nearer, businesses large and small are facing fines of up to $100,000 if they are found to be in breach of the new mandates.

On October 20, WA Premier Mark McGowan announced that the vaccine had been mandated for 75 per cent of the WA workforce by the end of 2021.

Industries were assigned to one of three groups, each requiring employees have proof of vaccination by a specified date to be allowed to attend work.

Penalties will apply to both individuals and businesses if unvaccinated employees are found to be working onsite, while employers will be required to keep official records of all vaccinations.

Prevelly cafe owner Kellie Tigchelaar said after taking over The Sea Garden around 6 months prior to the first impacts of COVID-19, the struggle to keep their heads above water had taken its toll.

"We managed against all odds to make it work, thanks largely to our brilliant team and support of locals," she said.

"Now we are looking at 50 percent of our staff leaving, not wanting to receive the jab, which I understand completely."

Ms Tigchelaar said she sympathised with her staff, but the situation was out of her hands.

"It's not a decision we've made, this has been imposed upon us.

"I have staff who are keen to share their research with me and they want me to understand why they've made the choice to decline the vaccine.

"Unfortunately no matter what I think about the situation, as a business owner I have to abide by the rules put in place. We simply can't afford a fine for non-compliance."

Staff at the popular seaside venue have been asked to make their decisions by December 15, a move Ms Tigchelaar said was unavoidable.

"I can't wait until the deadline day to know how many staff I will have available - I have to create rosters, schedule a team of people and let our customers know opening hours.

"We don't like that we have to push people to make the call now, but I need all the information I can get as soon as possible to make the changes I'll need to stay open over summer."

In the close-knit coastal community, it is easy to see the immediate effects of their decisions.

"These are people with homes and kids and responsibilities, I don't want to see them out of work," said Ms Tigchelaar.

"It's a small business and we are up close to our employees, we know what's happening in their lives.

"I don't know if these people will want to return, once everything has settled down or the rules change."

With warmer weather heralding the 'peak' season for South West business owners, and her workforce halved, Ms Tigchelaar said she was worried about the potential to earn enough to cover the quieter part of the year.

"We just managed to keep things ticking over this year, but we really need that busy period to make the money to see us through winter," she said.

"I'm really concerned about what is going to happen if we can't get enough staff to open our doors to take advantage of the visitors coming down."

WA's first dose vaccination rate has surpassed 80 per cent for people 12 years and over, after the success of last week's 'Super Vax Weekend' which saw 28,271 Western Australians vaccinated at pop up clinics around the State.

"The rising vaccination rate means the number of Western Australians left to be vaccinated is reducing - which is exactly what we want," said Mr McGowan.

"Our detailed plan provides a soft landing, with minimal impact on WA's unique way of life.

"COVID is coming, so you need to get vaccinated before it's too late - there's no excuse not to."