Authorised workers, employer groups and healthcare workers have joined a mass legal action against the Victorian government’s mandates on vaccines.
A legal challenge to Victoria’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate has been taken up by more than 100 people, some authorised workers, amid concern the order is forcing businesses to close and people to lose work.
The state’s vaccine mandate, believed to be the strictest in the world, has forced millions of authorised workers including lawyers, politicians, real estate agents, teachers and taxi drivers to take the jab or risk losing their income.
The matter has also linked in with Victorians’ access to greater freedoms out of lockdown, with now only double-vaccinated people allowed to work in and attend hospitality and retail settings.
But some have opted to fight back, with an originally small legal challenge, initiated by a teacher and her husband, now expanding to include more than 100 complainants across multiple industries.
The original action was filed by relief teacher Belinda Cetnar and her horticulturalist husband Jack Cetnar, concerned they would lose their jobs in schools if they declined to get vaccinated.
Fresh documents filed in the Supreme Court showed 112 plaintiffs have since joined their case, including 52 authorised workers, more than 20 employer groups and 17 healthcare workers.
The group is accusing chief health officer Brett Sutton and other senior health bureaucrats of breaching the state’s Human Rights Charter when they imposed the mandates.
Several nurses, a police officer, a Department of Justice bureaucrat and a surgeon have been named as plaintiffs.
One plaintiff is currently employed by vaccine manufacturing company CSL in Melbourne and worked on the production of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Such a legal challenge is the first in Victoria, with previous legal challenges to the same public health orders across Australia being largely knocked back.
Mr and Mrs Cetnar claimed in court documents earlier this month the mandatory policy was an “extreme measure” and inconsistent with human rights provisions.
In a statement of claim, Mrs Cetnar argued the directives for mandatory vaccinations were not a proportionate response to the pandemic and questioned the safety and efficacy of the coronavirus vaccine.
“They do not uphold a citizen’s rights to autonomy and informed consent in medical treatment and procedures,” she wrote.
“The blanket mandate approach does not consider the human rights of those it is imposed.”
A trial was originally set to begin on October 21, but has now been adjourned to a later date as more people join the action.
The Victorian mandate has hit dozens of industries and is believed to be affecting around 1.25 million workers across the state.
Melbourne man Munna Hill, who worked for Amazon, lost his job as a delivery driver when the mandate came in on October 15.
Mr Hill said he had chosen not to get the vaccine due to concern about the potential short-term and long-term side effects and the current lack of long-term safety data.
In the days since, he has struggled to find employment.
“I have no idea what I’m going to do, to be honest,” he said.
“I’ve been making a few phone calls to my mates, but so many industries are following the guidelines, even cash in hand jobs are really hard to find.
“I’m really struggling to pay my bills, even buying groceries every week and paying loans for property.
“I’m just draining my savings account; I think maybe in a month I won’t be able to do it anymore.”
Employment Law expert with the University of Sydney, Dr Giuseppe Carabetta, said the important difference between Victoria and the other states was Victoria had a Human Rights Charter.
“Human rights law allows for limitations on human rights where necessary to protect public health and the fundamental right to life. However, such restrictions must be necessary and proportionate to the risk and balanced against individual rights,” Dr Carabetta said.
“What the courts will ultimately have to address in determining the validity of a health order is whether any interference with individual rights is justified for the protection of the community.”
She said the courts would likely examine how coercive the mandates are, whether they allow for exemptions, how serious sanctions are and what interests are at stake.
“While mandates for high-risk sectors such as health or aged care are likely to be upheld, the question will be a more interesting and more complex one when it comes to mandates for less high-risk settings.”
Originally published as More than 100 people join legal fight against Victorian vaccine mandate