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If you want to keep your job or get that bucket of KFC you might need the JAB

What you need to know about mandatory vaccinations in the workplace

It is a challenge that we have not had to face before and as someone who has been in the employment sector for some time the brutal reality is that mandatory vaccinations will require people to make tough decisions – between their job and income and being vaccinated. The reality is that Governments will never mandate mandatory whole of population vaccinations for two reasons – firstly populations are generally against that sort of approach and secondly, it’s a cast iron vote killer because it brings to bear the Orwellian tragedy of Governments that run the risk of going to far. But Governments around the world can still mandate vaccinations for certain sectors while also encouraging the market to take over and push their own employees.

In New Zealand this is stating to play out when the Government announced recently that vaccinations in some frontline workforces such as health and education would be mandatory – essentially meaning if you’re in front of kids teaching or in the back office you will need to be vaccinated against COVID19. If you are in aged care, work in primary health or roles interacting with some of the most vulnerable in society the same rule applies.

Internationally businesses such as QANTAS will require those travelling to also have a vaccination passport while retailers and some of the worlds largest brands, in addition to large numbers of the hospitality sector, are also introducing compulsory vaccinations for staff – and customers alike. In fact, in the United States many are going further by saying if you are not double jabbed you don’t come into my store. New South Wales in Australia is the latest. On this front this is what I mean about Governments relying on the market beginning to take over – encouraging, using the power of consumerism, to convince those final stragglers to get on board – that could mean a boost of an additional between 3-5% of those who might still be hesitant or taking the wait and see approach.

But what does it mean for those who the Government has now mandated in certain sectors will need to be jabbed:

Health and Disability sector

  • The COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021 will be updated to require anyone conducting high-risk work in the health and disability sector to be fully vaccinated by 1 December, 2021.

  • Under these new requirements, general practitioners, pharmacists, community health nurses, midwives, paramedics, and all healthcare workers in sites where vulnerable patients are treated (including Intensive Care Units) must receive their first dose of the vaccine by 30th October.

  • These requirements also include certain non-regulated healthcare work, such as aged residential care, home and community support services, kaupapa Māori health providers and Non-Government Organisations who provide health services.”

Education sector

  • From 1 January, 2022, schools and early learning services and providers will need to maintain a register, and ensure only vaccinated staff and support people have contact with children and students. They need to have their first dose by 15 November.

  • This includes home-based educators, and all those support people in our schools and early learning services such as teacher-aides, administration and maintenance staff and contractors.

  • Secondary schools and kura will also be required to keep a COVID-19 vaccination register for students. Students that do not produce evidence of vaccination will be considered unvaccinated.

  • All school employees in Auckland and other Alert Level 3 regions will be required to return a negative COVID-19 test result before they can return to work onsite.

  • Those who are not fully vaccinated in the period leading up to 1 January 2022, will also be required to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.

And now lets look at some of the advice being given to business from Employment New Zealand:

Vaccines play a critical role in reducing risks of COVID-19 infection and transmission. They are something all businesses should consider as part of their health and safety activities and assessments. When considering workplace vaccination issues, businesses should consult up-to-date public health guidance. Current advice from the Ministry of Health is that vaccination supports, and does not replace, other infection prevention and control measures.

Businesses must take steps to eliminate or otherwise minimise risks, including the use of personal protective equipment and cleaning, where recommended under public health guidance.

Businesses and other organisations should continue to encourage use of the NZ COVID Tracer app by clearly displaying QR codes, and must follow Alert Level rules.

Businesses should support workers to access vaccinations

If there are practical barriers to accessing vaccination (eg travel or time off work is needed), businesses should help address these. Some workers will have individual health concerns or other reasons for needing support. Businesses should ensure they do not directly or indirectly discriminate against workers on the basis of their vaccination status.

Health and safety reasons for requiring work to be done by vaccinated workers

Businesses cannot require any individual to be vaccinated. However, businesses can require that certain work must only be done by vaccinated workers, where there is high risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19 to others. This will be a minority of all work in New Zealand. This could change if there is a significant shift in the COVID-19 situation domestically.

To decide that work is high risk and therefore needs vaccination for health and safety reasons, businesses must first assess their COVID-19 exposure risk. This applies to work done by all workers, whether employees or independent contractors. Businesses must involve workers, unions and other representatives in the risk assessment process, and when deciding how to eliminate/minimise risks. Businesses should consider whether other public health measures (eg physical distancing, PPE usage) can minimise the risk of exposure and transmission of COVID-19.

Reasons for requiring vaccination other than health and safety are unlikely to be sufficient, for example, requiring vaccination to promote your workplace as being fully vaccinated. This would amount to requiring workers to undergo a form of medical treatment solely for a marketing benefit.

If certain work can only be done by vaccinated workers, businesses should set a reasonable timeframe for workers to decide if they will be vaccinated. If an employee cannot work during this time, special paid leave should be considered, especially in the short term while employers and employees discuss what happens next.

COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021

From 1 May 2021, some work at the border can only be done by vaccinated workers. This means businesses do not need to do individual health and safety risk assessments for work covered by this Order. Work covered by the Order must only be done by vaccinated workers.

The Order has been expanded to apply to more work at the border from 15 July 2021. There is a reasonable window of time for vaccination of workers covered by the expanded Order:

All wider government workers (including Crown entity employees) must have had their first dose by 26 August 2021, and their second dose by 30 September 2021.

Privately employed border workers must have had their first dose by 30 September 2021 and their second dose by 4 November 2021.

New workers covered by the Order must have their first dose before starting work, and their second dose within 35 days of starting work.

Matthew Tukaki is the Chair of the National Maori Authority and the former head of the worlds oldest and largest employment company, Drake International.


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