Supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths have announced that all of their employees must be vaccinated, or they will risk losing their jobs.

The new mandate dictates that any and all staff working for the supermarkets, whether their role is customer facing or not, must get the jab to continue working.

For Woolworths, this encompasses its 170,000-strong workforce, who work across its 1,200 retail outlets, Big W, warehouse and distribution centres, and offices.

Coles has around 112,000 employees nationwide, and must also adhere to the the new vaccine mandate.

Woolworths staff in NSW, Victoria, ACT, WA and NT will have to be fully vaccinated by January 31st 2022, while Woolies employees in other states will have until March 31st 2022 to get the jab.

For Coles workers however, employees in NSW, ACT, NT, WA and Victoria will have to get their first jab by November 5th, and their second before December 17th.

The supermarkets have made their decision in a nationwide attempt to protect staff and customers and two of Australia’s biggest states begin to lift lockdown restrictions.

Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci said the mandate for “all of our team members in Australia” came after a “careful review” of medical advice.

“With each store welcoming an average 20,000 customers a week, a single team member can come into contact with quite literally thousands of people in the course of a normal working week,” he said.

“Importantly, we have been listening to our team members. With states and territories at different levels of vaccination uptake and availability, we will engage with them further on our roadmap and implement a sensible and pragmatic timeframe for the requirement to come into effect.”

Woolworths’ group chief medical officer Rob McCartney said a vaccinated worker is less likely to catch Covid, pass it on to customers or become seriously ill.

“There is a clear and compelling case for a vaccination requirement to provide the safest possible work environment for all our team members,” McCartney said. “This is particularly important as restrictions ease and we see higher rates of transmission.”

The supermarket group has said it will allow exemptions for those who have religious or medical grounds to not get the jab.

However, if a legitimate exemption cannot be provided, a worker will likely lose their job, a Woolworths spokesperson told Yahoo Finance.

“If a team member chooses not to be vaccinated without a valid exemption, we’ll review their ongoing employment and it will likely lead to termination.”

“Everyone has a right to their personal choice, and we respect that, but we have an obligation to make the workplace as safe as possible and that’s what this policy is all about.”

Image credits: Shutterstock

This article first appeared on Over60.