New Zealand Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood made an important announcement recently that the government took a dim view of the idea of compulsory vaccinations for the wider workforce of various companies and organisations. However, he added that employers have the right to include vaccination requirements into future employee contracts.They can also ensure that some duties and responsibilities are performed by inoculated workers.
Wood notified the Education and Workforce Select Committee that the current legislations are appropriate to ensure the well being and safety of employees. For Example, a health order was passed recently to make vaccinations mandatory for border workers by a certain date. But the same step would be extraordinary for a normal workforce as the employment laws do not allow such exceptions. He noted that "Clearly the wish of the government - and I think everyone in the system - is for the maximum number of people to be vaccinated ... there is not a standing provision that enables employers to terminate employees' employment outside of the order."
Wood assured that some immunities have been provided in the Health and Safety at Work Act to safeguard the basic rights of employees in their workplaces. The Act requires employers to work with employees to manage, minimise and eliminate any health or safety risks. WorkSafe chief executive Phil Parkes told the Workforce Select Committee that the Health and Safety at Work Act entails ‘reasonably practical steps’ which might require vaccinations for all in future. He added, "In which case you go down the discussion around 'is there a place for redeployment', and if not then you talk about the extent to which the nature of the job and the requirements have changed."
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's website Employment NZ was also in support of this view that the employers cannot force their employees to take Covid-19 jabs. But they can ensure that work with a high risk of contracting and transmitting Covid-19 must only be done by an inoculated workforce. The Worksafe Committee put forward an urgent need of a health and safety risk assessment to support businesses' claims of such a risk. It said, "To carry out a risk assessment for exposure to Covid-19 you need to consider two main things about the role: the likelihood of a workers being exposed to Covid-19 while performing the role, and the potential consequences of that exposure on others (e.g. community spread)."
Employment NZ deputy chief executive Paul Stocks sounded off to the committee that the question on vaccination status can be included in future employee contracts. Many raised their concerns that it could lead to legal tussles with employees taking cases of dismissal to court if redeployment or mediation failed. However, the NZ government has made its stand clear that it will not make vaccinations compulsory for all employees. Wood suggested that cooperation from all sides will lead to conflict resolution and a safe working environment.