11 Oct 2021

Primary teachers' union responds to mandatory vaccination policy

From Checkpoint, 6:10 pm on 11 October 2021

NZEI president Liam Rutherford told Checkpoint he welcomes the announcement of mandatory vaccination for education staff. 

He said there will be a number of people in the education sector "reassured by this call".

Rutherford says they've known for a long time that vaccines will be the single greatest thing we can do to move away from restrictions. 

"I think there's going to be a number of people working in education sector that are going to reassured by this call, not just for themselves but for their colleagues and tamariki that come through our schools every day."

He's seeking clarity from the government about how schools will be able to release teachers for a day to get their vaccines. 

"We do hear stories of barriers at the school level around having the time to be able to do it. As part of good employment practise, it's going to be really important that we're lowering as many barriers as possible.

"There's still a lot of guidance that's going to need to come as a result of this."

Rutherford said NZEI's role as a union will be to "get alongside members to make sure they get access to fair process."

He said there would be several other options to consider for unvaccinated staff members before going to court over the mandate. 

If teachers refuse vaccination and create staff shortages, Rutherford said they'll have to "watch this really closely". 

"This is an education sector that is already struggling with staffing. So decisions like this by the government - while they are the right ones in terms of safety - they are going to have flow-on effects."

Rutherford says the news that schools won't open in Auckland next week will come as a relief to many teachers in the area.

"Conversations I've been having with principals over the last couple weeks, they believe that even the parent community don't think it's safe enough to go back and they were anticipating relatively low levels of students turning up."