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Businesses reach out for guidance

Business NZ employment relations policy manager Paul Mackay spoke at a Business Wairarapa workshop on Thursday. PHOTO/TOM TAYLOR

Business owners from across the region have had questions on vaccine enforcement answered by an employment relations expert last week.

Business NZ employment relations policy manager Paul Mackay attended a Business Wairarapa workshop in Carterton on Thursday evening.

Mackay explained the fluid situation of employers’ obligations under public health orders and incoming legislation.

“I know that every one of you is facing tough times,” Mackay said.

He said businesses had many questions, and Business NZ was working closely with the government to try to provide answers.

Some of the main questions he heard were from individual businesses thinking of enforcing the vaccine for their employees.

“Businesses have been yelling loudly for some guidance around that,” Mackay said.

He said that currently, the only way a business could require its workforce to get vaccinated was to go through a health and safety risk management process.

However, he said businesses wanted more security.

He said that legislation would be passed in Parliament in the coming weeks to clarify many issues.

The law would introduce covid vaccine certificates and a simplified process for businesses to follow when requiring their workforce to get vaccinated.

“It doesn’t mean that someone can’t challenge you, but it means that if they challenge you, and you’ve gone through that risk assessment process, the law will say you were reasonable to apply that,” Mackay said.

Mackay said conversations between employers and employees should cover all possibilities for work to continue.

For example, even if they did not get vaccinated, office workers could continue working remotely in some circumstances.

However, people whose jobs were tied to locations such as schools would need to be vaccinated.

“If they can’t access the workplace, and there’s no other work to do, then the conversation gets tougher.”

When vaccine certificates were introduced, Mackay said there were two groups of businesses where they would take effect and one where they would not.

For the first group, including restaurants and entertainment businesses, it would be compulsory for customers to prove their vaccination status with the certificate.

“Much the same as you use a boarding pass to get on to a plane, you’ll scan in with your QR code when you are asked to,” Mackay said.

In the second group, individual businesses could decide whether to require the certificate of their customers.

However, businesses that chose not to use vaccinations would be limited in the number of people allowed on their premises at certain alert levels.

The third group was for businesses where requiring a certificate was banned – including supermarkets, pharmacies, and other essential services.

A cafe owner asked how the vaccine certificates would work in a practical sense.

“It seems like there’s a lot of great ideas happening in Wellington, but when it comes down to a practical level – when the rubber hits the road for people that are doing this – it’s going to be a pain in the backside,” the owner said.

She said that enforcement of the certificates could mean businesses needed extra staff members to stand on the door – at a time when hospitality businesses were already stretched to the limit.

She also said that many regular customers entered her store every day, and it would quickly become obvious who was vaccinated.

She questioned whether the cafe would need to scan these customers’ certificates every time they visited.

Mackay said decisions like this would likely be at the discretion of the business.

Other attendees asked how enforcement of the use of the certificates would work.

Mackay said this was another question the government had not yet answered.

However, he said the police’s handling of anti-lockdown protests could point to their approach going forward.

“The police are taking a very hands-off approach, trying not to force the issue other than to calm it down and separate people.

“I suspect that there will be a strong undercurrent of that the whole way through, where police talk to people and try to understand what they are feeling.”

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