Australia’s construction sector faces challenges in overcoming COVID vaccine hesitancy among young workers and workers from diverse cultural backgrounds, a study of construction workers in Victoria has found.
In their latest study, Master Builders Victoria, the CFMEU VIC/TAS Branch, and worker entitlement safety net, insurance and wellbeing organisation Incolink surveyed more than 1,000 workers and conducted in-depth interviews via Zoom to understand attitudes toward COVID vaccinations across different segments of the industry’s workforce.
Encouragingly, the study found that 43 percent of workers in construction intend to take up vaccinations as soon as these are available to them.
This compares favourably to the 39 percent of non-construction workers and the 38 percent of all Victorians indicated likewise.
Meanwhile, only 14 percent of construction workers are unwilling be vaccinated, compared with 15 percent of non-construction workers and 17 percent overall.
(Note: Australian adults aged 40 or older along with workers in specific categories are now eligible for the vaccine. Those aged 18 to 39 years can get Astra Zeneca.)
However, the study uncovered vaccine hesitancy challenges among specific segments of the sector’s workforce.
According to the study, vaccine enthusiasm is high among those construction workers who are of Indian or Japanese nationality, aged over 40, live in Metropolitan Melbourne, are educated to university level or above and whose annual income exceeds $100,000.
Conversely, greater unwillingness and caution were identified among those who are Asian (other than India or China) or European, are under forty years of age, are living in regional Victoria and who have annual incomes of less than $100,000 and as well as diploma levels of education or lower.
Indeed, whereas more than four in ten Aussie-born workers are willing to take vaccinations, this falls to less than one in five in the case of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) workers from Asian countries other than China or India.
Meanwhile, 30 percent of workers from this latter group are unwilling to take the vaccine, compared with less than 20 percent of Aussie born workers and less than ten percent of CALD workers from India.
According to the report, vaccine hesitancy is being driven by fears about safety along with potential long-term side effects.
These concerns are compounded by misgivings about the speed of vaccine development and have been exacerbated by concerns about the Astra Zeneca vaccine.
“I agree with vaccinations, but I don’t trust the vaccines available now as they are not properly tested,” one 20-30-year-old Greek-born excavator said.
“We need time to see the longer-term side effects, like 3-5 years.”
The research also found that young workers and those from diverse cultural/language backgrounds are being influenced by information from a variety of sources – notwithstanding that mainstream Australian TV, newspapers and radio remains the dominant information source across all groups.
These other sources include family and friends, social media and – especially in the case of non-Australian born and/or non-English speaking workers – foreign media and foreign language media.
Master Builders Victoria CEO Rebecca Casson said the results demonstrate a need for targeted communication for younger workers as well as workers in regional areas and multi-cultural groups.
She said the latter had been a focus of this study as they are often a difficult to reach part of Master Builders’ membership base.
Casson said MBV was looking at ways to ensure that its members had access to clear, relatable information that helped them make informed choices.
But she called on governments to provide information to all Australians – including those of diverse backgrounds.
“Our members get their news from family and friends, culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) social media platforms, and worksite notices.” Casson said.
“Working together, our industry has been successful in keeping the building and construction sector safe and open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. It is now time to fully reopen the country by supporting the vaccine rollout.
“Getting as many Victorians informed about the vaccines as quickly as possible so that there is no longer any reason for lockdowns, border closures, or other restrictions is vitally important for our sector and our community.
Victorian State Secretary of the CFMEU John Setka agrees.
Setka says industry members had proven during lockdowns that they were willing to do the right thing to keep the industry safely operating.
Now, he says the union’s members have a desire to lead normal lives and to help with the state’s economic recovery.
He said the union wanted to assist its members to be informed about the vaccine rollout so that they are able to make informed decisions.
Incolink CEO Erik Locke, said the Incolink bus COVID-19 testing facility has seen more than 23,000 COVID tests performed on site.
The same facility could be used to deliver on-demand vaccinations at worksites.
He says entire worksites within regions could be vaccinated within a single day whilst more than 40,000 on-site vaccinations could be performed over four months.
Facts and Findings
The study was conducted between May 12 and May 31,2021.
It involved a quantitative survey completed by 1,087 respondents along with in-depth interviews via Zoom.
- All up, 43 percent of construction workers say they are willing take a COVID vaccine when it is available to them. This is slightly higher compared with 39 percent of non-construction workers and 38 percent of all Victorians who indicated their intention to do likewise.
- Conversely, only 14 percent of construction workers are unwilling to take a vaccine, compared with 15-percent of non-construction workers and 17 Victorians overall.
- Within construction, enthusiasm for vaccines is highest among workers who are of Indian or Japanese nationality, aged over 40, live in Metropolitan Melbourne, are educated to university level or above and whose annual income exceeds $100,000.
- Conversely, greater unwillingness or caution is evident among those who are Asian (other than India or China) or European, under forty years of age, living in regional Victoria and who have annual incomes of less than $100,000 and as well as diploma levels of education or lower.
- Amongst construction workers, vaccine hesitancy is greater within the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) community. Among CALD workers, only 36 percent are willing to take vaccines whilst one quarter are highly cautious about vaccines. In contrast, 45 percent of non-CALD construction workers are willing whilst only 11 percent are highly cautious.
- Vaccine hesitancy is particularly high among workers who are CALD Asian other than Chinese or Indian, CALD Chinese or CALD European. Of those in the first group, less than one in five are willing to take the vaccine whereas three in ten are unwilling. Meanwhile, almost two-thirds of CALD Chinese and almost half of CALD Europeans are hesitant about the vaccine. By contrast, 42 percent of Australian-born workers are willing to take the vaccine
- Withjn construction, vaccine hesitancy is highest among non-English speaking workers. All up, 39 percent of non-English speaking construction workers who were born overseas and 34 percent of non-English speaking workers born in Australia are ‘very concerned’ about vaccination. This compares with 26 percent of English speakers born in Australia and 22 percent of English speakers born overseas who are very concerned about vaccination.
- Younger workers are less willing to take a COVID vaccine. Whereas 49 percent of workers aged 40 or over are willing to take the COVID vaccine when available, this falls to 31 percent for those under 40. Moreover, 22 percent of younger workers are unwilling to take the vaccine, compared with only 11 percent of older workers.
- Among workers who are unwilling to take the vaccine or highly cautious about doing so, the most common reasons cited for this are fears about vaccine safety, risks and long-term side effects and concerns about the speed of vaccine development and approval.
- Younger workers are less aware of specific vaccine brands which are available to them. All up, a quarter of workers aged less than 40 are not aware of which vaccine brands are available to them. This compares with five percent for workers aged forty or over.
- Awareness about critical information regarding vaccines is lower among younger workers (aged 39 or below) and among overseas-born non-English speakers. This includes vaccine brands, required vaccination doses, potential side effects, eligibility, vaccination locations, vaccine impact to health and cost. The biggest difference in understanding related to potential side-effects and costs.
- Among both age and cultural background groups, vaccine hesitancy reduces with greater understanding of vaccine options.
- Concerns about potential side-effects following news of rare blood clotting among those who had taken Astra Zeneca were especially prevalent among the Chinese CALD community, non-English speakers and younger workers.
- Across all demographic and cultural background groups, mainstream media remained the most common source through which construction workers obtained information about COVID and vaccines.
- Nonetheless, younger workers were more likely compared with their older counterparts to obtain information through friends and family and through social media. All up, 43 percent of workers under 40 obtained COVID/vaccine related information through family and friends whilst 38 percent of obtained such information through social media. This compares with 37 percent and 21 percent of those aged over 40 who did likewise.
- Families and friends along with overseas digital news and local language media are also key information sources for construction workers who were born overseas and/or are non-English speakers. Amongst non-English speakers born overseas, for example, more than half received information from friends and family whist 40 percent received information via overseas digital news and local language media.
- Friends and family are the most trusted source of COVID/vaccine information followed by company notices and workplace communications. Whereas 80 percent of older workers trusted mainstream Australian media (TV/radio/newspaper), less than half of workers aged 39 or younger trusted information from this source.
- Sources of media consumption have an impact upon willingness to take vaccines. Whereas more workers who received information through either mainstream media or local (foreign language) media were willing to take the vaccine compared with those who were unwilling, the reverse was true for those who obtained information through either friends and family or social media.
- Messaging is critical. Across the sector, the messages which workers felt were most important in encouraging vaccine take-up were ‘Allow Victorians to lead COVID-Normal lives’, ‘Decrease the risk of future state lockdowns’ and ‘Assist with Victoria’s Economic Recovery’. The least important were ‘Allow international borders to reopen and remove quarantine’, and ‘Allow removal of social distance restrictions’.