In just a matter of weeks, Jeff Pow will close his small business in regional Western Australia because all of his employees are refusing to get COVID-19 vaccinations. 

Key points:

  • Some businesses say they will have to close when the WA government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate comes into effect
  • Jeff Pow will shut his South West poultry abattoir, because none of his staff want to be vaccinated
  • More than 40 per cent of country businesses expect to be adversely affected by the mandate

Under the WA Government’s workplace vaccine mandate, workers in a number of high-risk industries will be required to have had at least one dose by December 1, including meat workers and community care staff.

According to a new survey by the Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA, more than 40 per cent of country businesses say they expect to be adversely affected by the mandate.

Mr Pow, who runs a small chicken farm and abattoir in Balingup in WA’s South West, which processes 12,000 birds a year, is one of them.

He is vaccinated but said he had been unable to convince any of his five staff to follow suit.

Now, he said, there was not enough time to recruit half a dozen new staff ahead of the mandate coming into effect.

“We’ll have to close,” he said


“There will be no more poultry coming out of our farm nor any of the farms that are accessing our facility as well.

a man stands on a wet concrete slab beside a shipping container

Jeff Pow says you can’t find trained workers at short notice, so he’ll have to close his business.(ABC News: Bridget Fitzgerald)

Mr Pow said it was already difficult to find skilled workers for the South West abattoir.

“We’re quite short on workers in the agriculture sector. You can’t just front up to an approved health facility to work in the harvesting and processing of chickens for chicken meat,” he said.

No exemptions for businesses

Mr Pow said businesses should be able to apply for an exemption to the mandate — an idea which has been knocked back by WA’s Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan.

A middle-aged woman stands on a balcony with green tree leaves behind her

WA Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan has ruled out exceptions for businesses but says there are other options to source skilled workers.(ABC South West: Jacqueline Lynch)

However, Ms MacTiernan said she would work with regional businesses to find other solutions, such as bringing in workers from the South Pacific.

She admitted the mandate would cause some issues, but said it was in the interest of public health.

“We will see these problems emerging everywhere but the bigger problem will be if COVID comes into the state and starts spreading,” she said

Region-wide impacts

The ABC has spoken to other businesses in regional WA who also are searching for new staff or closing down because of the vaccine mandate.

The Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA’s latest survey shows 43 per cent of businesses are bracing themselves for some difficult months ahead. 

“They’re worried they’re going to lose staff, they’re worried they’re going to lose revenue,” CEO Kitty Prodonovich said. 

A woman wearing glasses and a floral shirt smiles at the camera.

CEO of the Regional Chambers of Commerce WA Kitty Prodonovich says more than 40 per cent of country businesses will be adversely impacted by the mandate.(ABC News: Julian Robins)

Ms Prodonovich said while big businesses could manage losing staff, it was more challenging for small businesses. 

“We’re hearing from every type of business, in every type of industry,” she said. 

She said the state needed  to bring in more workers from overseas.

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Why this farmer won’t be counting any chickens once the vaccine mandate hits
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