20 Oct 2021

Meat industry backs mandatory vaccination for sector workers

6:09 pm on 20 October 2021

The meat processing industry says it would support a vaccine mandate for staff.

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Meat processing is a high-risk working environment and needs clear Covid-19 health guidelines, industry leaders say. Photo: 123RF

It comes after the Government last week announced it would make vaccinations mandatory for education and health sector employees.

The Meat Industry Association believes the Government should also consider a mandate for other high-risk sectors, such as meat processing.

Association spokesperson Esther Guy-Meakin said it had written to the Food Safety and Associate Health Minister, Ayesha Verrall to make its views clear.

"The nature of our industry, particularly on the processing side, is that our workers, do shifts side by side, in indoor environments and while we do have comprehensive protocols that are ensuring physical distancing personal hygiene and a range of other protective and cautionary measures. The fact is they are in a higher-risk environment.

"And so, from our perspective, the vaccination is the best tool that we have to protect our workers and avoid the spread of Covid-19."

Esther Guy-Meakin said efforts to encourage all staff to get vaccinated were continuing.

She said, although individual processors could look at making vaccination a health and safety requirement at plants, this was a difficult and complex process and a sector-wide mandate was preferable.

Horticulture NZ is also seeking certainty from the government about vaccines in the workplace.

Apart from sectors which have a mandate to get vaccinated it's a personal choice to get the vaccine.

Horticulture NZ chief executive, Nadine Tunley, said that was putting employers in a tricky spot.

"We'd really like to see government come out and start to make some clear rules or regulations, particularly in the employment space. You know, for us as food handlers and producers, we have big pack houses, where we can have hundreds of people in close proximity. They are handling food. It's getting packed for international and or domestic market.

"If there are one or two staff members within those facilities who are refusing vaccination. Where do we stand from a rights perspective of one being able to ask those people if they are vaccinated because we need to fit our health standards or to potentially not have them on the staff in those roles. Because we have to pack the product we have to handle food that people consume."

Nadine Tunley said going forward if New Zealand is going to be living with Covid-19 in the community - businesses need clarity on how to operate.

"We just have to make sure there are clear rules of how we work. Because again, for those staff that do take all precautions and follow the rules, we don't want to unfairly disadvantage them by having to wear excessive amounts of PPE, or making them do separate shifts."