Alan Pollard, Chief Executive, New Zealand Apples & Pears
The government’s move away from its elimination strategy means that businesses will need to plan for how they will operate in an environment where there is widespread COVID community transmission. Sadly there is little government guidance to help businesses to do this.
The main push right now is vaccination – although the government hasn’t put a target on it, the higher the proportion of the population vaccinated the more likely it is that New Zealanders will enjoy greater freedom than we have experienced over the past 18 months. Employers will need to consider the implication of having both vaccinated and unvaccinated staff. Employers cannot force staff to be vaccinated; they can ask staff if they are vaccinated but staff do not have to answer. However, if a staff member won’t confirm their vaccination status, an employer is entitled to assume that they are unvaccinated. Employers who wish to consider some form of COVID vaccination requirement will need to undertake a risk assessment of each position before pursuing that strategy; employers will have to be able to prove that there are significant health and safety risks or the employee will not be able to perform their duties if they are not vaccinated.
Employers will also need to be ready if COVID gets into the workplace. A key risk management tool will be the ability of work places to isolate workers if they test positive. Our level 4 protocols provide comprehensive guidance for workplaces, including dividing teams into bubbles. That means that if COVID is detected in one bubble, that bubble can be quickly isolated without the need to shut an entire operation down. If businesses operate with only one bubble covering the whole operation, then if COVID is detected the risk is that the entire operation will need to be shut down.
On the labour front, by Saturday 16 October three flights will have arrived quarantine free. These flights were the ones that were scheduled to come in via MIQ in September, but were deferred to ease pressure on MIQ, and in return converted to quarantine free. A huge amount of work has been done by the Industry Collective to stand up incoming quarantine free flights at scale from November. We also appreciate the support that we have received from employers to stand up these flights while at the same time ensuring the safety of our communities as well as our Pacific work force. It is critical that all employers follow to rules associated with quarantine free travel, particularly around vaccination and isolation. Between the Ministry of Health, MBIE and MPI there will be compliance checks undertaken, but we have always argued that employers are responsible and will not do anything to jeopardise the quarantine free travel arrangement – to continue to access the workers we must show that we are following the rules put in place.
If employers have any questions they should contact their industry representative as follows:
- NZ Ethical Employers – email@example.com
- NZ Apples and Pears – firstname.lastname@example.org
- NZ Kiwifruit Growers – Colin.Bond@nzkgi.org.nz; email@example.com
- NZ Winegrowers – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Summerfruit NZ – email@example.com
- Horticulture NZ (incorporating all other crops) – firstname.lastname@example.org