Covid 19 coronavirus: Customs sacks nine border workers for refusing vaccine

Nine Customs workers have been sacked for refusing the Covid-19 vaccine, including four from a single provincial port.

Their contracts were terminated after Customs was unable to find a suitable alternative role for the workers, Stuff reported.

One maritime border worker, who asked not to be named, told Stuff she was devastated to be sacked after what she said was a lack of consultation by the agency.

They were not being offered redundancy payments because their roles were not being disestablished, Customs said. The agency defended its communications with the workers.

Catherine Stewart, an Auckland employment lawyer, reportedly said employers of workers required to be vaccinated were likely to be able to “substantively justify dismissing an unvaccinated employee”.

Under the Covid-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order they could show they were unable to lawfully keep an unvaccinated person in the role.

But she said the employer would also need to follow a robust process.

“This means that they should consult with staff and, if a worker is reluctant to be vaccinated, ascertain the reasons for this and work with them to try to persuade them effectively to be vaccinated,” she told Stuff.

“If the worker is still unwilling to be vaccinated then the employer should consider alternatives and try to redeploy the worker into a role that does not require vaccination, in order to save the worker’s employment.”

While it was an employee’s choice, the consequence of not vaccinating could be the loss of their job.

The Covid-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order came into force at 11.59pm on Friday, April 30, and requires all workers in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities and those who work for Government agencies at the border to be vaccinated.

One of the workers who worked until Friday at a provincial port monitoring international ships to make sure the crew took appropriate Covid precautions told Stuff she never came into contact with the crew, and believed there was insufficient risk to justify her being required to vaccinated.

She would not disclose her reasons for not getting the vaccine.

In a letter sent to her on Friday, Customs said the nature of her position meant it was not possible to modify her role to reduce her exposure to Covid-19.

Meetings have been held with the woman’s law advocate Ashleigh Fechney in Christchurch, where Customs disagreed that they were in effect going through a redundancy process and that there was insufficient health and safety risk to require mandatory vaccination.

In a letter, the agency said the roles are ongoing.

“Given the matters we discussed at the meeting, including the reasons why Customs requires your position to be performed by a vaccinated person, the Government’s requirement that non-vaccinated border workers stop working in those positions by May 1, and the absence of suitable redeployment opportunities, we advised that Customs had decided to terminate your employment as proposed,” the letter said.

Customs people and capability deputy chief executive Jacinda Funnell confirmed nine employees, including the four at the provincial port, had their contracts terminated because they were unvaccinated.

More than 95 per cent of Customs staff have had their first dose and more than 85 per cent the second dose, she said.

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