Major Sydney council forces staff to download COVIDSafe app

A photo illustration shows a new COVIDSafe app by the Australian government as seen on an Iphone to install in Sydney on April 27, 2020. - More than one million Australians have downloaded a new government smartphone app designed to make coronavirus contact tracing easier, as the country moves to ease stay-at-home restrictions. (Photo by Saeed KHAN / AFP) (Photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Employers cannot force staff to download the app. (Photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP via Getty Images)

One large Sydney council has required hundreds of staff to install the controversial coronavirus COVIDSafe app, in breach of biosecurity laws.

Staff at the Strathfield Council were ordered to download the Covid-19 tracing app onto supplied work devices last week, as first reported in the Daily Telegraph.

This is despite rules stating that employees cannot be forced to download the app onto either personal or work devices. The app registers anyone the user gets close to who also has the app.

In an email sent on 27 April, staff were told they were “required to download the app by the [close of business] today”.

“The sooner we achieve downloads better than 40 per of the entire population, the sooner we can get back to normal,” CEO Henry Wong said.

Image: Supplied
Image: Supplied

A spokesperson for the council told Yahoo Finance it was a “lawful direction”.

“Mr Wong stands by his original request for staff to download the app on work assets. He maintains that as CEO his call for work assets to have the app installed is a lawful direction and reasonable given the mandate issued by the National Cabinet and the PM,” the spokesperson said.

“As a responsible employer of staff who provide essential services to the community, the App installed on Council’s owned devices will provide the means for the rapid contact tracing and stopping the spread of COVID-19 from unknown sources involving key staff, and therefore would protect Council’s entire workforce.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison emphasised the role of the app in creating “COVIDSafe workplaces” during a press conference on Tuesday.

Can my boss force me to download the COVIDSafe app?

However, while Australians can be “encouraged” to download it, they cannot be forced to download the app, Morrison has also confirmed.

“It can't be a requirement, that's prevented under the legal arrangements, but we are encouraging... it within the Commonwealth public service,” he said.

“The state governments will be encouraging it within the state public services to encourage the employees to download the COVIDSafe app. And there is nothing wrong with that.”

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has also said that while the app is widely accepted as being safe and useful, concerned Australians cannot be required to install it.

“Nor can an employer take action against you for reasons that include a failure to download the app. You should contact your union immediately if you have been disadvantaged at work for failing to download the app,” an ACTU spokesperson said.

Additionally, business owners are not allowed to ban people from entry if they have not downloaded the app. Business owners who do this run the risk of a $63,000 fine and five years in jail under proposed laws.

"The draft bill clarifies the enforcement mechanisms for the penalties that are already in place against misuse of data from the COVIDSafe app," Attorney-General Christian Porter said on the laws.

"In addition to the protections provided by the biosecurity determination, this bill puts in place a clear process outlining how the government will satisfy its obligation to delete all COVIDSafe data from the national COVIDSafe data store once the pandemic is over."

Nearly 5 million Australians have already downloaded the app.

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