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Vaccine mandate for hospitality and ‘close contact’ workers welcomed


A vaccine mandate for hospitality and ‘close contact’ workers is being welcomed by industry leaders, despite the challenges it is likely to create.

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood announced a range of measures to help protect workplaces and workers from Covid-19 on Tuesday.

Under the changes, vaccinations will be mandatory for staff at any business where vaccine passports are required for customers, including hospitality, hairdressers and gyms.

A new law will simplify the risk assessment process for employers to follow when deciding whether they can require vaccination.

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Non-vaccinated workers in roles requiring vaccination will be given a four-week notice period to get vaccinated before their employment can be terminated.

A vaccine mandate for workers in hospitality and retail roles is being welcomed by industry leaders.

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A vaccine mandate for workers in hospitality and retail roles is being welcomed by industry leaders.

When the vaccination mandate comes into force would depend on when the country moved to the Covid-19 Protection Framework or “traffic light system”, Wood said.

Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said ensuring business owners could legally enforce vaccinations was a positive step towards ensuring safe and healthy workplaces.

In a September survey of its members, 40 per cent of respondents indicated they would be willing to put a vaccination policy while 25 per cent were unsure.

“Feedback has shown some concerns around enforcing a policy that could make employers liable for discrimination on the basis of vaccination status,” Bidois said.

“While mandating a policy is a welcome step towards helping to keep businesses safe and operational, there is still an ongoing concern around losing valued employees to the mandate.

“We need to remember that our industry is still suffering a skills shortage and so rolling this out is going to have to be carefully managed to reduce the risk of losing a percentage of our workforce.”

Liz Barry​, owner of Christchurch restaurant Strawberry Fare, said a mandate was “utterly necessary” and she was glad to have some more clarity.

“I think most staff will be very pleased.”

Barry, who had been a nurse for 20 years, expected most customers to her restaurant would be fine with the mandate as well.

However, she wanted the Government to announce a date for the vaccine mandate to come into effect rather than have it dependent on the traffic light system.

So far, most of her staff were vaccinated, and for the “few stragglers” she had put up a poster of the traffic light system to make it clear what the implications were.

Jeremy Smith​, managing director of restaurant and bar company Trinity Group, said he was pleased about the decision.

”We asked for clarity, because it’s very difficult for especially hospitality to make decisions without clarity. I’m very pleased the Government is going to put legislation in place so we can make the right decisions for our individual businesses,” Smith said.

The main centres had better vaccination rates than some provincial centres, so in places like Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch he expected better acceptance of the mandate among staff and customers.

For staff who did not want to get vaccinated, it would pay to sit down and have a “sensible conversation”, he said.

The industry did not want to lose chefs and other staff over the mandate, but it was ultimately for the good of their fellow workers, and for the good of customers.

Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said the greater certainty around vaccinations was a good thing for employers and workers, but more detail was required.

“Across the broader retail sector, there will be businesses where vaccinations for workers are mandated by Government – for example, hairdressers and beauty therapists – and other businesses where employers need to undertake a risk assessment,” Harford said.

“Retail NZ is keen to work with Government to ensure that is real clarity around the risk assessment framework to be used. Retail NZ hopes that this will happen as quickly as possible.”

It was also important that the Government protected employers from the risk of legal action by disgruntled employees, Harford said.

BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said businesses had found it very difficult to get clarity on what they could and couldn’t do to protect workers and customers and the potential for legal challenges of business decisions had created 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.”

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said the decision to require at-risk businesses to ensure staff were fully vaccinated was practical and would help drive up the numbers of vaccinated people.

“Under the red setting, businesses such as bars, cafes, restaurants and gyms will be able to open for up to 100 people only if all customers have vaccination certificates, so it makes sense to require staff to also be vaccinated,” Goff said in a statement.

“This provides certainty for these businesses who have been seeking clarity on this matter, will help ensure that staff are safe at work, and will give Aucklanders confidence to shop, dine out, and enjoy all the things that make our city such a great place to live.”



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