The Government is considering allowing all businesses to implement “no jab no job” policies.
More details are expected from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today.
Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins, during Friday’s traffic light” announcement, confirmed that the Government had Ministers working on the idea.
The proposal would extend “no jab no job” beyond healthcare workers who are required to be vaccinated By December 1 and teachers who will need to be vaccinated by January 1.
Speaking about his intention to introduce amendments to the Covid 19 Public Health Response Act during Parliament’s November session, Hipkins said he hoped the legislation would pass quickly.
“It will pick up the issues around the vaccination certificate,” he said.
“It will also pick up the issues that Minister Wood and Minister Parker have been working on around greater certainty for those businesses who are considering a vaccination requirement for their staff.
“That’s thrown up a handful of issues that they want greater clarity on, so we’re working through that at the moment.
“That will also be in the bill.”
That work is likely to pick up on work that BusinessNZ has been doing with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Worksafe NZ on how to manage the risk of employees taking legal action if they are prevented from entering their own workplace.
But the Government faces a potential incongruity.
Under the Vaccination Certificates proposed as part of the Traffic Lights plan, individuals could be prevented from entering a workplace if they were not vaccinated.
Yet, unless “no jab, no job” is mandated, staff on the premises might not need to be vaccinated.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson pointed out that the Vaccine Certificates would play a different role under the Traffic lights system to what they might have played under the Alert Level regime.
“These are very new areas for employment law, and we are carefully working our way through that. A number of ministers have been working closely with the likes of the EMA, Business New Zealand, Council of Trade Unions to make sure we can land something that works,’ he told the briefing on Friday.
Vaccination Certificates would be required under the Red Regime for close contact businesses like hospitality, retail or gyms if they wanted to avoid limits other than total numbers.
But under the Orange regime, those limits would go though tough limits would stay for businesses that opted to operate without Vaccination Certificates.
Ardern said on Friday that when Auckland moves to 90 per cent doubled dosed with the Pfizer vaccine, it will move to the Red Light level.
“I know that vaccination certificates will help us get those numbers up,” she said.
For Auckland to move, the official line is that it will require all three District Health Board areas to be at 90 per cent double dosed.
Last night Waitemata DHB was at 76 per cent, Auckland DHB at 81 per cent and Counties Manukau DHB at 73 per cent.
Otherwise, Auckland and the rest of the country will be reviewed on November 29.
Privately Beehive officials concede that if there were pockets of the country close to but not at 90 per cent, that might not hold up a move of the whole country to a Green Light.
The Government faces two major areas where vaccinations are lagging.
First are Maori under 35. Rates are lowest in the Bay of Plenty DHB and Lakes DHB areas — together, incorporating Tauranga, Rotorua and Taupo — where first dose vaccinations among Maori under 35 are below 48 per cent.
The other area is the so-called vaccine-hesitant.
The highest Pakeha first doses have been recorded in the Auckland DHB, where 95 per cent have been vaccinated, whereas only 78 per cent of Pakeha have been vaccinated on the West Coast.
POLITIK understands that it is likely the Government will bring another vaccine, probably Astra Zeneca, into the vaccination system to meet some anti-vaxers who focus on the Pfizer vaccine.
Otherwise, the Government will rely on the need for Vaccination Certificates to push Pakeha vaccination rates up.
As far as Maori are concerned, Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare announced on Friday $120 million of funding, of which $60 million go to supporting our Māori vaccination rates, and a further $60 million will support Māori and iwi-led initiatives to protect Maori communities against Covid.
Henare said the funding would be directly to those groups and organisations, and providers that would lift Maori vaccination rates.
“We’ve made that clear, and we’ve also taken the step of making sure that the powers for decision making sits with myself, Minister Robertson, (Kelvin) Davis, and (Willie) Jackson,” he said.
But ultimately, the requirement to produce a Vaccination Certificate confirming that the holder is double vaxed before they may enter a workplace is going to be a powerful tool to incite the un-vaxed to get vaccinated.
Business has made clear it wants it.
Auckland Business Chamber CEO Michael Barnett said at the beginning of October, an overwhelming 90 per cent of small and medium enterprises that responded to the business organisation’s latest survey endorsed mandatory workplace vaccination.
And a letter last week to Economic Development Minister, Stuart Nash, signed by 10 Auckland business organisations, asked for certainty around the framework for enabling businesses to open and operate safely.
This asked for the Government to “empower employers to mandate vaccine passports in the workplace by November 25, with legal frameworks including health and safety, provided by the Government .”
The business leaders assumed moves like the vaccine certificates would point towards a domestic opening date of December 1 2021.
“This will ensure urgency for vaccination and give business certainty for planning,” their letter said.
But the certificates are an explosive legal issue raising questions about whether they breach an individual’s human rights or their privacy.
The Government sensitivity to these issues was on display at last Tuesday’s Covid media briefing.
At last Tuesday’s Covid media briefing, a question directed to the Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, asking why his Ministry had not sought legal advice on implementing the certificates.
Before Bloomfield could say anything, the Prime Minister interrupted.
“I don’t believe that I would consider that necessarily an accurate question,” she said.
“So you’re claiming that we haven’t sought Crown Law support for vaccine certificate development. Is that the question?”
Media: I’m asking whether the Ministry of Health has sought legal advice.”
Ardern: “Well, of course, the point is whether or not there is legal advice on the existence of vaccine certificates, regardless of which agency seeks it, I would have thought.”
Media: “So there is, and you’re satisfied that there’s no rights issue at play?”
Ardern: “Yes, we’ll make sure that wherever we are utilising them, that we have good grounds to use them.”
Then Bloomfield got a chance to speak, seeming to confirm the original question, that the Ministry had not sought legal advice on the certificates but had instead gone to a source highly to be critical of them.
Bloomfield: “The only thing I would say is that there’s obviously been a lot of liaison with the privacy commissioner as well around the privacy aspects of the use of vaccine certification.”
The legislation that is being planned will need to make the certificates legal, even if that means overriding human rights and privacy concerns.