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Business responses to the Government’s announcement on vaccination requirements for workers were supportive. The Human Rights Commission response was more tentative.
It welcomed the announcement but said human rights and Treaty of Waitangi considerations must be examined.
Back in 1840 the examination of those treaty considerations would not have taken long. The treaty’s three articles can be read in a matter of minutes and none of those articles mentions vaccines.
Nowadays the examination can be expected to take much longer, keeping a small army of academics, lawyers, social scientists and what-have-you engaged in earnest deliberations on the need to recognise concepts such as “partnership” and “treaty principles” that politicians and the courts have introduced in recent years.
The government’s announcement essentially was that:
- 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.
- A new law will 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 will be required to provide paid time off for workers to get vaccinated and will need to keep records about workers’ vaccination status.
In effect, about 40% of the country’s workforce will be subject to vaccine mandates in their jobs, including the health and education staff already announced. The timing of this move will coincide with the shift to the new Covid-19 Protection Framework.
The Science Media Centre asked experts about the announcement. The responses are recorded here.
BusinessNZ Chief Executive Kirk Hope said the requirement to vaccinate, and the simpler process for deciding on the requirement, would make the process for businesses more straightforward.
“Businesses seeking to protect their customers, staff and visitors to the workplace have found it very difficult to get clarity on what they can and can’t do. The potential for legal challenge of business decisions in this area has created much uncertainty.
“The BusinessNZ Network has worked closely with the Government and NZCTU on this set of policies, which when legislated will make workplaces as safe as possible and give confidence to businesses, customers, staff, suppliers and others,” Mr Hope said.
Retail NZ said it was important that as many people as possible get vaccinated as soon as possible, and the greater certainty around vaccinations signalled by Government was a good thing for employers and employees.
Hospitality NZ chief executive Julie White said the proposed law clearly reflects Hospitality NZ’s feedback that employment laws would be breached if employers required vaccination, so a legal framework provides protection.
“This law will create stressful weeks for hospitality staff and employers, but it will ease some of the bigger legal risks.
“We had to point these risks out in consultation a few weeks ago, so it’s helpful to have this clarity now.
“The law needs to eliminate the risk that any employer will be sued if they follow the Government’s framework for sacking unvaccinated workers.”
And then we heard from the Human Rights Commission, which welcomed the greater clarity on the Government’s response to Covid-19 – but (yeah, there was bound to be a “but”) said the Te Tiriti o Waitangi and human right implications need careful analysis.
This statement referred to the new Covid-19 Protection Framework for New Zealand which was announced by the Government last week, setting out a ‘traffic light’ system for opening up the country, which has vaccination certificates at its core.
Chief Commissioner Paul Hunt said he believes we are now at a pivotal moment in our fight against the virus, and our human rights must be clearly understood.
The Commission is reviewing the human rights implications of the vaccination certificates policy, including how they will be used in practice, and in what circumstances.
The lack of any specific priority within the framework to ensure a 90% full vaccination rate for Māori was noted with concern, by the Commission, as this may leave some communities vulnerable to the continued spread of Covid-19. While the Government has provided funding to boost vaccination rollout to Māori communities these initiatives may take time to be effective unless implemented with urgency.
“Anyone who is able to be vaccinated against Covid-19 is encouraged to do so to fulfil their human rights responsibility to whānau, friends, neighbours, work colleagues, community and all front-line workers, such as health professionals and carers.”
“Human rights are not just about rights. They are also about our responsibilities to each other, including the responsibility to do all we reasonably can to keep each other safe,” said Mr Hunt.
This powerful concept was woven deeply into the fabric of our society, he said.
“It is a feature of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s common to all of Aotearoa New Zealand’s communities.”
He then drew attention to information on Covid-19 and human rights that is available on the commission’s website.
But here at Point of Order we decided to put that aside for now. We had heard this mandatory lark has become infectious in the Beehive and Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has announced her Three Waters reforms – widely opposed by the country’s local authorities and significant numbers of citizens – will be forced on them.
No surprises there, eh?
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