Coles responds amid calls to scrap Covid vaccine mandate

The supermarket giant has answered criticism of its vaccination policy.

Australian retailer Coles is being urged to put a stop to its "outdated" Covid vaccine mandate and follow the path of its rivals as Covid-19 shifts from pandemic to endemic in the country.

Coles, Australia's second-largest employer, imposed the rule that all staff must be fully jabbed at the same time Woolworths and Aldi made the call. This meant that more than 250,000 workers across the three companies had to be vaccinated by the end of January last year or risk losing their jobs.

Disgruntled employees who were sacked for not complying with the mandate are now pushing for Coles to drop the policy following Woolworths and Aldi's decision to remove the requirement late last year.

Coles cashier ringing up groceries
Coles employees are still required to be vaccinated against Covid-19, whereas rival supermarkets Woolworths and Aldi have dropped their vaccine mandates. Source: Getty Images

'Serves no purpose'

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, one woman shared how the mandate had impacted a friend. "How about Coles stops its outdated vaccine mandate policy for staff? The mandate serves no purpose now and isn't a government requirement," she stated. "I have a friend who was a grocery delivery guy for Coles up until the mandate ended his job, income and financial security in 2021. He suffered disorientation and depression for months until he found another job."

The call for Coles to reverse its policy is also being pushed by the Liberal National Party of Queensland's Gerard Rennick. In a letter to Coles CEO Steven Cain on February 1, Mr Rennick urged the retailer to drop the vaccine mandate after he was "personally contacted by numerous Coles workers" who'd been fired for not getting the Covid vaccine.

"Around 6% of the working age population did not get vaccinated for Covid. If this percentage was applied to the Coles workforce of 130,000 then it stands to reason that if Coles dropped the Covid vaccine mandates, they could easily find enough workers to fill their vacancies," Mr Rennick wrote. "Can I urge you to do the expedient thing and drop your vaccine mandates?" he continued. "Coles is not a high-risk setting, and the Covid-19 environment has changed considerably since you introduced them late in 2021."

"Government and health mandates for retail workers have been revoked around the nation and there is no longer a state of emergency in place," Mr Rennick added.

Mandates continue to divide opinion

Mr Rennick, who also shared his appeal to Coles on Twitter, opened a Pandora's box of opposing views on the platform, with many complaining that other employers including hospitals, schools and the Australian Federal Police are still imposing the same mandate despite a nationwide shortage of skilled workers.

Meanwhile, someone who backs the policy took Mr Rennick to task, commenting, "I support Coles, as they support stopping the spread. Why are you wanting grandma to be killed?"

Coles responds

A Coles spokesperson told Yahoo News that the retailer is not making any changes to its Covid vaccination policy in the immediate future. "Coles regularly reviews Covid controls, including sneezeguards and vaccination requirements, taking into account expert advice, case numbers and consultation with our team members," the spokesperson said. "Coles has not made any changes to its Covid controls at this time and we continue to encourage our customers and team members to maintain Covid-safe behaviours."

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