As a sign of impending doom, nine customs officials, including four in a provincial port, have been fired for refusing the Covid-19 vaccine.
One of the maritime border guards said she was devastated to be fired and disappointed by what she said was a lack of consultation with the agency. She asked not to be named because she feared public criticism for her decision not to vaccinate.
Customs defend their communication with workers and say they cannot offer layoffs, as called for the fired employees, as their roles have not been dismantled.
Their contracts were terminated after customs failed to find a suitable alternative role for workers.
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Auckland employment lawyer Catherine Stewart said employers of workers who need to be vaccinated are likely to be able to substantially justify the dismissal of an unvaccinated employee.
They would cite Covid-19’s public health response (vaccinations) order and explain that they could not legally continue with an unvaccinated person in the role.
“However, the justification is essentially only one aspect of a justified dismissal, and the employer will also have to follow a stable process before making any dismissal,” she said.
“This means that they must consult staff and, if the worker does not wish to be vaccinated, identify the reasons for this and work with them to try to persuade them to be vaccinated effectively.
“If the worker still does not want to be vaccinated, the employer must consider alternatives and try to redirect the worker to a role that does not require vaccination in order to save the worker’s employment.”
She agreed with the customs’ view that the provisions on redundancies would not enter into force when the worker was fired because he had not been vaccinated.
“It is important to remember that a person cannot be vaccinated against his will; the employee has the right to refuse to be vaccinated. However, the consequence of this may be the loss of their jobs. “
The shootings come on the eve of Order 2021, which came into force, in response to public health (vaccinations).
It requires all workers in managed isolation and quarantine facilities (MIQ) and those working for government agencies at the border to be vaccinated.
Until Friday, the worker had a role in a provincial port monitoring international ships, making sure stevedores and their crew had taken appropriate Covid safeguards, including protective equipment.
“We took it seriously, it’s really important. If we weren’t there, people would relax. “
The woman said she had never been in contact with an international crew and believed there was insufficient risk to justify her need to be vaccinated.
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She was not a member of the union and in December had a lawyer to write to customs asking the management to inform her if there was a change in their role.
However, she said she learned through the media in March that workers like her who refused to be vaccinated could be deprived of front-line roles.
The woman will not disclose her justification for not receiving the vaccine.
“No … I have to explain why I don’t want to be vaccinated, it’s my choice according to Bill of Rights.”
The questions reached the head of a meeting on Thursday.
Management said the nature of her position meant that it was not possible to change her role to reduce her exposure to Covid-19, according to a letter sent the next day terminating her work.
“We also advised you that the Customs is looking for opportunities for internal rerouting for you, none of which were available in […] region, but customs is looking for opportunities for external reassignment through the Commission’s Public Service Workforce Mobility Center, “the letter said.
The woman is supported by Christchurch labor lawyer Ashley Fechny.
During the meeting, Fechni said that customs were in fact undergoing a reduction process, that there was insufficient health and safety risk or a legal basis requiring mandatory vaccination for her position, and that customs had not followed a fair process.
The agency did not agree.
“The roles continue and we will appoint them,” the letter said. “Given the issues we discussed at the meeting, including the reasons why customs requires your position to be carried out by a vaccinated person, the government’s requirement not to vaccinate border workers stops work in these positions until 1 May and due to the lack of appropriate reassignment options, we have recommended that Customs has decided to terminate your work as proposed.
“Please treat this letter as a formal notice of termination of employment in accordance with Part 9 of your employment agreement.”
She was not required to prepare her notice and will be paid for these four weeks as a lump sum in her final payment.
The woman said she was disappointed and disappointed.
“I just feel underestimated. It was very, very unpleasant, very unprofessional and devastating. “
University of Canterbury professor Michael Planck is adamant that vaccinating young people is vital to ensure that New Zealand reaches herd immunity.
Fechny, who advocates for several other customs officials in a similar situation, said the government should pay redundant workers compassionate compensation.
“If you’re going to quit, at least do it in layoffs,” she said. “They gave up their own health and safety to protect the borders.”
The worker was also given the opportunity to stay at work for four weeks while customs sought a suitable job at other government agencies, such as Corrections.
“None of my clients were interested in that,” Fechny said. “There is a big difference between working in Corrections and working in Customs.”
Fechny said her clients were also annoyed that their service certificates said they had given up their roles.
“It makes it feel like it’s their choice to leave, but it’s not their choice.”
Deputy Executive Director of Customs and Jacinda Funnel said they would change service certificates if asked.
She confirmed that nine customs officers, including four in the provincial port, had their contracts terminated because they had not been vaccinated.
More than 95 per cent of customs officers received their first dose and more than 85 per cent of the second dose, she said.
“We were able to redistribute most of the people who had not been vaccinated,” she said. “There were very few for whom we simply could not find redistribution opportunities at customs. We tried to work with them to find roles for them in other countries.” organizations. “
If they get workers laid off, they will not be legally able to replace them, she said.
Fennel dismissed comments from Fechni and workers that there was a lack of communication and consultation.
“I think we put a lot of effort into consulting with people. Senior managers have traveled to all of these ports to talk to staff, we have had many, many online sessions, and we have had the opportunity to talk to staff in person with staff. “