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BBC 1962: “World relief as Cuban missile crisis ends…”

Sixty years later, a not so similar story unfolds… in Australia… Back from the brink. The world can breathe again. Novak can stay… The refusal by… View Article

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BBC 1962: “World relief as Cuban missile crisis ends…”

Sixty years later, a not so similar story unfolds… in Australia…
Back from the brink.
The world can breathe again.

Novak can stay…

The refusal by Australian Border Force to allow the reigning Australian Tennis Open Champion to enter the country to defend his title, by revoking his visa as he arrived at Melbourne airport, brought a global spotlight on the actions of the Australian authorities. Actions that were subsequently judged illegal…

Over the weekend an international audience watched with bated breath as the world’s media reported the immigration snafu, according it a level of importance and style of reportage previously only afforded to the Cuban Missile crisis!

In further revelations it appeared that the quality of accommodation made available to Djokovic, pending appeal on the immigration decision, was completely unacceptable – even to those “ordinary people” required by the State to isolate for ten days upon arrival in the country. So, what chance then did Novak have of emerging safely from less than 5-star luxury? This was worse than any nuclear apocalypse.

Fortunately, the twenty times grand slam champion was equal to the challenge, notwithstanding the reported absence of regular breakfast; this was a scandal apparently worthy of higher billing on the news channels than the human rights violations now taking place daily in Kazakhstan. Never mind the deaths of 160 protestors in one day, Novak had no fresh berries or Greek yoghurt.

Magnanimous as ever, Djokovic said he was “grateful” for his release. And you have to hand it to the man. The transcripts of his conversation with Australian Border Force, upon arrival of his flight at 4am in the morning local time, show a courteous, controlled and unfathomably polite athlete respectfully pointing out that the diabolical decision was putting him in “a difficult situation.” I wish I could claim that I would be so calm in such a situation…

Some say Djokovic should not be allowed to play without a vaccination. Others that he was given permission by the authorities to do so, and that is that. However, the one thing that can be agreed upon is that the Australian authorities have handled this badly. And one can only wonder how long it will be until Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison’s, words “Rules are rules” will come back to haunt him. I am sure every opposition politician is working on that right now!

Surely the most unfortunate aspect of this situation was the dispassionate enforcement of rules against a person who clearly had done their best to observe them. That it took a High Court judge to sort it out was a travesty of justice. How can people count on a visa system requiring legal argument on a case-by-case basis to enforce it, and where the official bodies themselves clearly have different views of what the rules are?

And how does a nation like Australia, world renowned for its outstanding hospitality, get to a point where the hotels being used for compulsory ten-day quarantines are being talked of in the same breath as prisons and detention centres? If travel to Australia is unavoidable, that does not mean per se that I should be treated like a criminal – although, of course, such was not always the case!

The lack of a sense of proportionality seems crazy. This man has a track record of wielding a tennis racket against his opponents to devastating effect. He is not a criminal, not a terror suspect, or threat to State security. Although at times you would be forgiven for mistaking him for public enemy number one. And that got me thinking…

I wonder, are some in retail similarly oblivious to the bigger picture when it comes to staff vaccinations?

This week Citi Group became the first bank to announce a “No Jab. No Job” policy. And yet according to reports many of their workforce have been collaborating through remote communications for over 18 months now, with little or no face-to-face contact with members of their teams or other employees of the bank.

Ikea too, in a move I would consider uncharacteristic of the tolerant Scandinavian company, has decided that fully vaccinated workers enforced to self-isolate will receive full pay. Whereas those unvaccinated forced to isolate will only get Statutory Sick pay – that is a pay gap of around 70%!

Similarly, Wessex Water has implemented sick pay cuts for unvaccinated workers. And all of this is at a time when the media are reporting the rumour that from March the UK Government’s policy is going to be one of no restrictions due to the ubiquitous and uncontrollable nature of the Omicron variant. It is here. There is nothing to be done about it. So, we all have to just “get on with it.”

In the office we were discussing this. Prior to Covid the consensus was that, if you were planning on going into the office or to someone’s home, you would at least alert them (and very possibly cancel the arrangement) if you had a “filthy cold.” That was just a common courtesy. Because at the end of the day nobody wants to sit with someone who is very possibly going to pass their illness on to people. And if you were due to visit elderly relatives, then you would simply reschedule. It is common sense.

Now I do recall my schooldays, and that my parents were of a generation who believed that if you could walk you could attend class. I am sure many readers have recollections of a matron or teacher who, when faced with pretty much any child malady (from sore throat to broken bones) would treat the same with a kind word and an aspirin. And do you know what, somehow we survived!

I am not saying that taking measures to “encourage” people to get vaccinated is right or wrong. I am told that the fewer people in the world who remain unprotected the more likely the virus will mutate into something even worse than we have experienced thus far. But then again, others say that each variant is weaker than the last. That seems to me to be a specious argument, because if it were true then the unvaccinated are doing mankind a huge favour. They would be the petri dishes of the world, helping to breed an ever-milder virus – one that we eventually could simply “ignore.” We would be thanking them for their self-sacrifice, not docking their pay!

I am not being insouciant. But all of this comes at a time when the need for labour exceeds supply, prices are rising steadily, and supply chains are being overtly affected. Plus, those employed in retail are at greater risk of abuse or physical assault than ever before. Employers insisting on a vaccinated workforce may be at a disadvantage from a recruitment standpoint. On the other hand, perhaps it will be an advantage as vaccinated employees may prefer a fully vaccinated co-worker environment. Time will tell..

Whatever policies on workforce vaccination retailers decide to pursue today, I am concerned that some may find themselves looking back in six months’ time and wishing they had not got caught up in what we all hope will prove to be short lived trend. They may inadvertently hand a medium-term advantage to their competitors. Even worse, they might hasten the migration of retail workers to other sectors. And that really would represent a crisis!

Paul Bessant is the Founder of Retail Knowledge, organisers of the new ReTec Europe retail technology expo launching at the NEC, November 8th & 9th 2022 – www.reteceurope.com

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