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Vaccination mandate: ‘Turbulent waters’ for small businesses

Mandate no small matter

Bar staff, hairdressers, and gym workers are among those in the customer-facing workforce who will soon need to get vaccinated to keep their jobs.

While some Wairarapa business owners say that the mandate is a necessary step forward, they say it will come with its own set of challenges.

Mandatory vaccination would apply to any employees at businesses that required customers to show vaccine certificates. It would add to existing Public Health Response Orders requiring staff in the education and health sectors and prison staff to get vaccinated.

Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety Michael Wood said the health orders covered about 15 per cent of the workforce. Vaccine certificates would apply to an additional 25 per cent, meaning vaccination would be mandated for a total of 40 per cent of New Zealand’s workforce.

Martinborough restaurant owner Adam Newell said the mandate would give clarity to the hospitality industry.

“If you want to go out to eat, or go to the gym, or go to the hairdressers, you’re going to have to get vaccinated. Otherwise, you’re going to put other people at risk,” Newell said.

“It’s crucial that the people who are serving every day in hospitality are safe from people coming in that might have covid if Auckland opens up.”

He said his business would prepare for any difficult conversations that might arise from the mandate.

“It’s a very delicate situation … We’re trying to stay positive that vaccination is the way to go, but we do know that there are some turbulent waters coming in regard to HR and dealing with this issue that the government has told us is going to happen.”

Newell said the mandate would give hospitality businesses another task to juggle on busy nights, with staff assigned to check customers’ vaccination certificates.

“That’s going to be one of the biggest challenges for hospitality, especially as people come off vineyards, and they’ve been drinking all afternoon. This is all going to be new to everybody, but hopefully, everyone sees the positive side of it, and they co-operate.”

Business Wairarapa general manager Nicola Belsham, speaking in a personal capacity, said that it was in the public’s interest for everyone to get vaccinated.

However, she said the mandate would apply more pressure on small businesses that were already struggling.

“It’s not one thing that hurts a business – it’s the combination of all these difficult things that we have to deal with.”

Belsham said many Wairarapa businesses had invested significant time and energy in their employees during the pandemic, often acting as guidance counsellors on top of their role as employers.

“To have invested all that energy and then to face the prospect of having to get rid of the very staff they’ve looked after … is going to be very difficult.”

Masterton barber Jordan McDowall said that the mandate would add complications for small businesses.

“There will be the time checking [certificates], and all this extra stuff that we will have to do that will reflect on the money we’re able to make and on our service. People are probably going to get deterred.”

He said the government needed to make it easy for businesses to implement the new regulations by allowing customers to scan in using their vaccine certificate like they did with the NZ covid tracer app.

“It’s just the anxiety around the whole thing – what’s next? How tough do they want to make it on small business owners? It’s different for big commercial businesses, but we’re just a small-town barbershop.

I don’t think they’re taking into consideration how it affects small-town New Zealand businesses.”

McDowall also questioned how the mandate would be enforced.

“How are they going to police this and know who is doing what? Are they going to go around and check every single business in New Zealand? Probably not. I don’t think they have the tools or the manpower to do that.”

However, McDowall said 90 per cent of his customers already booked in advance, which would make it easier to track any potential spread of the virus.

“We can keep a tight list of who we’ve had in here. If there was an incident, we’d be able to follow it up pretty fast.”

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