Public and private sector organisations are in discussion with workers as they review their Covid-19 vaccination mandate policies
Vodafone and Auckland Council are among the big employers holding off on dismissing staff who aren’t vaccinated against Covid-19.
This follows the Public Service Commission recommending that agencies wait to terminate the employment of unvaxxed individuals until they review their health and safety risk assessment and vaccination policies.
Anyone on Auckland Council’s books was required to be vaccinated by January this year. But according to general manager of health, safety, and wellbeing, Paul Robertson, 121 out of 7228 staff are still unvaccinated as of the start of March.
Most of the unvaccinated employees are in discussions with their managers, but Robertson says all talks and any resulting employment decisions are being paused until the policy review is complete.
In light of the evolving pandemic environment, he says the council will regularly review its position on vaccinations and the risk assessments for each type of role that underpin the policy.
“Because the situation nationally and within our organisation is very different to what it was when our policy was first implemented, we believe now is a good time to undertake the first full review, of both risk assessment and policy, which we hope to complete by the end of March 2022,” Robertson says.
The council’s workplace risk assessments are being reviewed alongside its vaccination policy, and this work will include seeking updated public health advice and information to inform decisions.
“Until the review of the risk assessment and our policy is complete, our position and approach to vaccinations remains the same.”
He says no employment grievances have been lodged, but some staff have “raised concerns about the mandatory aspect” of the policy.
Vodafone hits pause
Meanwhile, last year telecommunications giant Vodafone implemented a policy requiring staff to be double dosed by December 2021.
Newsroom understands discussions with unvaccinated employees about their future at the company have been temporarily paused until the Covid-19 situation has stabilised. This is predicted to be after the Omicron peak, but the length of this pause is unknown.
When asked to confirm this, Matthew Flood, senior communications lead at Vodafone, says each consultation is individualised, with a number of different scenarios.
“However, our general stance is to make sure we are making informed decisions with the latest information, that best protect our employees’ health and safety, which may include waiting until the current Omicron outbreak stabilises.”
“Employers should let their workforce know that they’re reconsidering, talk to them about why that is, and make sure they’re involved in the conversation.” – Rachel Mackintosh, assistant national secretary, E tū
Flood says Vodafone’s health and safety team continues to monitor the Covid-19 situation and any potential changes would involve consultation with staff.
Rachel Mackintosh, assistant national secretary at union E tū, says businesses should be consulting with their staff before making any further tweaks to policy.
“Employers should let their workforce know that they’re reconsidering, talk to them about why that is, and make sure they’re involved in the conversation.”
Unvaccinated, but critical, workers kept on at supermarkets
Emma Wooster, corporate affairs manager at Foodstuffs, says the grocery retailer strongly recommends all 24,000 staff across the two North and South Island co-operatives are vaccinated.
Newsroom has previously reported how a vaccine mandate proposal received pushback from some Foodstuffs North Island owner-operators.
Ultimately, owners of New World, Pak ‘n Save and Four Square stores have been making their own decisions around whether staff need to be vaccinated.
For example, the policy for one Auckland New World that Newsroom looked at outlines how some critical staff will be kept on, even if they do not get vaccinated by a deadline due to come into effect on March 27.
According to the policy document, the store has a “very small number’ of unvaccinated staff who are deemed critical to the store’s operations.
“If some unvaccinated team members are considered critical and some are not, special arrangements will only be put in place for those team members considered critical and any other team members will be required to be vaccinated.” From one Auckland New World’s policy document
These employees must wear a medical or N95 face mask and their role must allow for social distancing. They also aren’t allowed to use common areas and facilities, such as lunchrooms and smoking areas, during their breaks.
“If some unvaccinated team members are considered critical and some are not, special arrangements will only be put in place for those team members considered critical and any other team members will be required to be vaccinated,” the policy reads.
Unvaccinated staff on site must take a rapid antigen test each day, in addition to following broader co-op testing requirements based on each level under the traffic light system or Omicron response phase.
The policy is that unvaccinated staff who are not critical to the store, or whose role cannot be done in a safe way, will need to discuss their future with management. This could include unpaid leave or termination.
Emma Wooster says the company’s vaccination policy is being regularly reviewed by the co-ops.
Australian-owned chain Countdown enforced a vaccine mandate for all staff during January this year.
Director of corporate affairs, safety, and sustainability Kiri Hannifin says this policy was implemented in November 2021 with a six-month review clause embedded in it, meaning the policy will be reviewed in May, with site and role-specific risk assessments.
Anna Clark, the general manager of workplace relations and safety policy at the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment says it will review and develop guidance as needed to reflect public health advice.
She says the vaccination assessment is optional, and does not override any health and safety risk assessment processes that have already been undertaken by a business.