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Covid dining fines ditched

Masterton restaurant Saint Sebastian is no longer required to pay fines related to breaching covid-19 ‘traffic light system’ rules – although whether that’s due to a blunder or belated benevolence on the part of the bureaucracy [or a bit of both] is not entirely clear.

Owner Caleb Kloeg had been in the gun for a total of $16,000 for two breaches, for which he received infringement notices from WorkSafe on January 14, 2022.

The first infringement notice – with a potential penalty of $12,000 – was for not having “effective systems and processes” to check that everyone on site was carrying a covid-19 vaccination certificate [CVC].

The second – with a potential penalty of $4000 – was for failing to display a sign indicating whether the premises were operating under CVC or non-CVC rules.

Instead, “We had a sign up saying we accept everyone”, Kloeg told the Times-Age, adding that he told the WorkSafe representatives whose inspection resulted in the infringement notices that the restaurant had elected not to enter into the ‘traffic light’ vaccine pass system.

Kloeg said he and his then-partner [now wife] Victoria decided not to participate in the system because they felt it ran contrary to Saint Sebastian’s founding philosophy of being “a place for everyone”.

“The segregation of the vaccinated and unvaccinated was discrimination,” he said, “plus we weren’t going to make any staff who were undecided get something they didn’t want to get – that was their choice.

“So we chose not to do it, and from the information we looked into – online, as well as the legislation at the time – we were confident that, if it were to go to court, we had a good chance of fighting it.”

In the event, going to court wasn’t necessary.

Late last month, Kloeg received a notice from the District Courts of New Zealand informing him that his fine had been withdrawn from court.

“The infringement was filed in court with the incorrect reminder notice, but the infringement/s stand under covid-19 Public Health Response Act,” the notice stated.

“WorkSafe New Zealand may now send you another reminder notice.”

Kloeg then contacted WorkSafe to enquire whether the fines would be reissued, and received written confirmation on July 25 that they wouldn’t be.

“Upon discussion, I was advised that WorkSafe had completed their work in regards to your matter when it was passed onto the Ministry of Justice for them to follow up on any activity required and that reissuing enforcement is not something that WorkSafe would be doing. This is particularly the case now that we are no longer operating under any covid legislation,” the WorkSafe letter stated in part.

Based on responses to the Times-Age’s request for clarification from both WorkSafe and the Ministry of Justice, it appears Saint Sebastian’s infringement notices had been issued under an out-of-date health and safety act.

Kloeg said it’s “a huge relief that we don’t need to go through the courts”, while noting that he and Victoria had been in the position of not having children or a mortgage when they decided to make their stand.

“We went in thinking we could lose everything, which would’ve been horrible, but we still felt we’d be able to start again. A lot of other people didn’t have that luxury.

“Ultimately, we just opted for an approach that we thought was equally as safe, if not safer, than a system that was never transparent from the start.”

Kloeg doesn’t believe the restaurant’s business has suffered as a result of its regulatory run-in.

“We’ve been incredibly supported by most of the community on both sides, vaccinated or unvaccinated – people respected the stance of giving people a choice,” he said.

“We upheld a sense of normality through the crazy times, which people really appreciated.”

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