26 Oct 2021

Watch: Vaccination to be mandated for workplaces requiring certificates for entry

6:31 pm on 26 October 2021

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced vaccination will be mandated in any workplace that requires a certificate of vaccination for entry.

Watch the announcement here:

Last week the government announced details of its Covid-19 Protection Framework last week, involving the roll-out of a 'traffic-light' system once all DHBs hit 90 percent full vaccination rates.

Ardern told media the government wanted everyone to move towards the new system announced and urged vaccination rates to increase.

She said this was the "best way to give certainty to business and to our communities".

"We need to ensure vaccination rates lift. So please don't wait until cases come to your town or your city, get vaccinated now," she added.

Under the new traffic light system, hospitality, hair dressers and gyms can operate at all levels if they ask customers for vaccine certificates.

The government had already mandated vaccinations for people working at the border, and in the health and education sectors.

"If customers must be vaccinated, then so too, must the workers," she said.

"The timing of this coming into force will depend on when we move to the Covid-19 Protection Framework."

Ardern said the requirement would ensure staff and customers were treated equally, and it would play a "big part in helping to minimise the spread of the virus in the highest risk venues by reducing the potential for Covid to enter the business".

The prime minister rejected suggestions the new requirement constituted government overreach and said the move had a public health basis, which balanced the rights of workers with the rights of business clients.

What was announced

  • Vaccination will be required for all workers at businesses where customers need to show COVID-19 Vaccination Certificates, such as hospitality and close-contact businesses
  • New law to introduce a clearer and simplified risk assessment process for employers to follow when deciding whether they can require vaccination for different types of work
  • Non-vaccinated workers in roles requiring vaccination will be given a new four-week notice period to get vaccinated before employment can be terminated.
  • Employers to be required to provide paid time off for workers to get vaccinated and will need to keep records about workers' vaccination status

Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety Michael Wood told media the move was part of a range of measures to help protect workplaces and workers from Covid-19.

A new four-week notice period will apply to mandated employees who refuse to get vaccinated if their employment is terminated.

"Our law change will require a minimum of four weeks' paid notice for any employee who loses their job because they are not vaccinated," he said.

"This change will only apply to employees who do not have a notice period, or whose notice periods are shorter than four weeks. Most employees will have notice periods in their employment agreement.

Clarity to businesses

The new announcements were geared towards giving clarity to businesses, he said.

"A number of businesses have already gone through a risk assessment process to mandate vaccinations at their workplace, but we've had calls from both businesses and unions to make this process as clear as possible. That's why we will introduce a risk assessment process in law for employers to follow when deciding whether they can require vaccination for different types of work.

"We know though that many businesses and employers who are not covered by vaccine certificates want greater clarity on whether they can mandate vaccines. This process will provide businesses with a clear and simplified legal framework to make decisions about requiring staff to be vaccinated or not."

Employers will be required to keep records about workers' vaccination status. Wood said MBIE would work with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to provide practical guidance on how to ensure workers' records were handled appropriately.

Current orders in place covered 15 percent of the workforce, the minister said.

"Our estimate is that those workplaces covered by Covid vaccine certificates are potentially around about 25 percent of the workforce," he said.

"So, that would bring it to about 40 percent in total, noting that other workplaces would still have access to the simplified risk management framework."

Those who may lose their jobs due to the vaccine mandates would still be able to access government support, Ardern confirmed.

"Your ability to access for eg an unemployment benefit or to seek support in finding new employment is not, and will not be affected by your vaccination status," she said.

Vaccine certificates would not be used in places like supermarkets, or to access health services.

"We do not want people who are not vaccinated to be precluded by accessing the basic necessities of life - food, health care and so on," she said.

Retail businesses did not need vaccine certificates, but there was a process they could go through to adopt a vaccine mandate for their staff, she added.

Wood said ministers would now be looking at extending vaccine mandates over the coming weeks, which could cover government services like Winz and MSD.

He said the government would make it clear to businesses when it would be reasonable to make vaccination a condition for employment. It would depend on the degree of interaction with customers and a "small number of other criteria".

Taxis, rideshares not covered

Wood told Checkpoint that taxis and rideshare services were not covered by Covid-19 vaccine certificates so currently a vaccination mandate did not apply to drivers.

"Ministers are going to go and do some further work to consider whether there should be some further areas who are added to these requirements.

"We've been working closely with our social partners, Business New Zealand, other business sector groups and the CTU. And we'll be having ongoing conversations with them to determine whether there are other areas where it is appropriate."

He said the government had no current plans to mandate vaccination for all state sector employees, but ministers were working to see if there were other areas where it was appropriate.

Wood said the mandate could open the government to potential legal challenges.

"I would never preclude the right of people to have their day in court and we're not going to take away rights to do that. It's important that we retain those basic rights in our society.

"But, overall, I expect that these changes will actually result in greater certainty and a lesser prospect of their being litigation around these issues."

The Prime Minister said she foresaw a time when vaccine certificates would not be required, once vaccination rates were higher.

Vaccine certificates would be piloted during November and would be ready before Auckland moved into the new framework, she said.

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