The Government’s announcement yesterday that it was preparing to extend the use of Vaccine Certificates, whilst it will please business, has left the National Party dog-whistling to anti-vaxers.
The Government’s plan has two elements; mandatory vaccinations for some businesses and vaccination certificate requirements able to be implemented by other businesses if they want to. (And can comply with a simple risk assessment test).
There will be mandatory vaccinations for workers in healthcare, education and now also workers at businesses where customers need to show Covid vaccination certificates, including hospitality events, close contact businesses, and gyms.
In the meantime, Wood said yesterday that Ministers had agreed to do further work about whether it would be appropriate to include other areas within vaccine mandates.
This could include both Government and private sector operations.
There is one glaring anomaly already visible; Corrections staff must be double vaccinated by December 8, but there is no mandatory requirement for frontline police to be vaccinated.
Away from mandatory vaccinations, though the details are vague, the Government is also proposing that employers of workers outside the mandatory occupations could require their staff to be vaccinated provided the business fulfilled a simplified workplace risk assessment test which WorksafeNZ is now working on.
National, on the other hand, appeared to be picking up and running with ideas from the anti-vax campaign.
After a weekend of social media posts from some of National’s conservative right-wing MPs, the party caucus agreed yesterday to support mandatory vaccinations only up to the point where 90 per cent of New Zealand was vaccinated.
The conservative MPs — and Judith Collins — accused Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of trying to use mandatory vaccinations to split New Zealand in two; the vaccinated and unvaccinated.
But the mandatory vaccinations and vaccination certificates are issues that cut across the political spectrum.
The reality is that if an employer decided to require vaccination certificates fort hose on their premises, they would have effectively imposed a mandatory vaccination policy.
There is opposition from some sections within the union movement to mandatory vaccinations.
An indication of the sensitivities among some unionists is evident in the Combined Trade Unions (CTU) Vaccination Policy released at the end of September.
The policy says, “customers, clients, co-workers or other service users cannot demand that an employee disclose their vaccination status.
“Assurances for these groups that workers are safe for work lie with the employer.
“Employers must not disclose the vaccination status of workers to other parties.”
The CTU has been working with Business New Zealand and the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment to define how vaccination certificates might be used in non-mandatory situations.
That work is not complete, and that is the detail that business will be waiting for.
National, on the other hand, is opposed to continuing mandatory vaccinations once the country has passed 90 per cent double vaccinated.
“The National Party doesn’t agree with the Government in their plan to impose restrictions with the mandatory use of vaccine certificates after we have hit their vaccine target of 90 per cent across all DHBs,” Leader Judith Collins said yesterday.
“The most important time for proof of vaccination is now as we are striving to hit the target.
“Once the target is achieved, National supports the existing rights of all private businesses to choose who they do business with. Some businesses will choose to require proof of vaccination. Others will not.”
That was a lukewarm endorsement of the submissions from business groups requesting approval for them to use Vaccination Certificates to effectively have only vaccinated people on their premises.
And there is an obvious anomaly in that the party will oppose mandatory vaccinations once 90 per cent of the country is vaccinated bu apparently agree with the use of vaccination certificates once a 90 per cent vaccination rate is reached even though a vaccination certificate policy in a workplace is effectively a mandatory vaccination policy.
The position Collins announced after a National caucus meeting followed a series of posts on social media over the weekend b some of the party’s conservative MPs.
Simeon Brown put a lengthy post on Facebook emphasising that he had been doubled vaccinated but claimed that the Prime Minister “confirms she is creating a country with two classes of people based on Govt mandated vaccination passports requirements.”
Southland MP, Joseph Mooney, posted a similar post on his Facebook page.
“This Prime Minister will be remembered for being the first leader in New Zealand’s history to decide to have two classes of citizenship in our land,” he said.
Chris Penk, National MP for Kaipara ki Mahurangi, continued the theme of “two New Zealand’s” on a LinkedIn post quoting Ardern from last Friday: “For anyone who is not vaccinated right now: unless you choose to be you will not be able to enjoy the freedoms of other New Zealanders.”
All of these posts drew support from anti-vax commenters.
And Collins yesterday defended people who refused to get vaccinated.
“There are people with very genuinely held concerns,” she said.
“I do not share those concerns because I am double vaccinated.
“But our best way forward is not to vilify those people.”
That is where she picked up on Brown, Mooney and Penk — arguing that Ardern was trying to split New Zealand into the vaccinated and unvaccinated.
“Basically, she’s saying there are two classes of people in this country. We don’t want to see that,” she said.
But in the House, yesterday afternoon during Question Time, National’s Covid 19 spokesperson, Chris Bishop, took a different line.
He repeatedly asked Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins why it had taken so long to develop the vaccine certificate.
He made no mention of “two classes of New Zealanders”, and though National says it wants to end mandatory vaccinations once 90 per cent of the population are vaccinated, he asked whether people would have to use paper-based certificates if their area reached 90 per cent before the electronic version was ready.
He was not commenting last night on yesterday’s statements by Collins or his colleagues, but he posted on his Facebook page: “Every country in the OECD has a vaccine certificate system, but New Zealand doesn’t. Again, we are miles behind the rest of the world. Slow on the vaccine contracting, slow on the roll-out, slow on vaccine certification.”