Unions are praising the government for rolling out a Covid-19 vaccine to all border staff ahead of schedule but say more work is needed before it can be distributed to the entire workforce.
On Friday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the first batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine will arrive in New Zealand next week, earlier than expected. Over the next two to three weeks, 12,000 workers should be vaccinated, followed by their household contacts.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the first batch would be enough to cover all border workers, with vaccinations starting next Saturday.
Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff welcomed the announcement, but said more provisions needed to be in place to ensure workers are not disadvantaged during the inoculation programme.
“[We need to] make sure people don’t lose anything while getting vaccinated, like losing time, pay, or somehow having a difficult transport issue. Those are the barriers we would like to remove,” Wagstaff said.
He was optimistic all issues could be ironed out before the inoculation rolled out because “unions, employers, government and community groups have a strong interest in making sure this is done well”.
“The vaccination programme needs to provide people with all the information they need to want to be vaccinated,” Wagstaff said.
He added vaccinations are “a form of collective action,” and it only works when everyone, or as many as possible, do it.
E tū, which represents many border and health workers, is also welcoming the early arrival of Aotearoa’s first vaccine shipment.
The union’s assistant national secretary Annie Newman said it is “entirely appropriate” those working at the border and in managed isolation facilities be vaccinated first because they “have the most risk of exposure”.
“This is a very important milestone for our Covid-19 response and takes us a step closer to getting this virus under control,” Newman said.
She added that it is vital workers are not disadvantaged by the vaccine rollout, meaning they need to be properly paid throughout the process.
“Health workers, aviation workers, cleaners, security guards, food workers, and many more have shown exactly how essential they are.
“If they need time off work for the vaccination, that must be fully paid. If any part of the process prohibits them from working for a period, that time off should also be paid and not require workers to use up their leave,” she said.
A union representing port workers said some casually-employed staff may be at risk of missing out on their Covid-19 vaccinations.
The national secretary for the Maritime Union Craig Harrison said ports which use a large number of temporary workers may face challenges distributing the vaccination.
“Casual employees might work for three days this week and then you might not see them for three or four weeks, that’s the challenge and they might be working somewhere else, so just the nature of casual employment on the waterfront.”
Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) chief executive Brett O’Riley said the vaccination rollout is a confirmation of the “government’s ongoing efforts to keep everyone safe”.
However, O’Riley stressed employers could not compel their staff to have the vaccine, but could provide them with “all the facts they need to make their own choice and encourage them to do so”.