Airport security officers let go after refusing to get Covid jab

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 11 Oct 2021, 2:48PM
The four airport security workers lost their cases at the ERA. (Photo / NZME)
The four airport security workers lost their cases at the ERA. (Photo / NZME)

Airport security officers let go after refusing to get Covid jab

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 11 Oct 2021, 2:48PM

Four aviation security officers have lost their jobs after they refused to get a Covid-19 vaccine.

They all worked at an "affected" airport in New Zealand that received international arrivals, and their primary role and duties were scanning outgoing passengers and carrying out "landside" duties - activities between the airport boundary and boarding gates.

They had been employed for periods ranging from fours years to 24 years.

All four took a case against the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) seeking reinstatement, but in a written decision released on October 8, that was declined.

The Herald cannot name the staff members involved following a decision by the ERA prohibiting publication, "concerned of the possible impact on them and their families from any harassment and negative comments".

The Authority's Helen Doyle said that "the issues of vaccinations is one about which there are strong views and the applicant and their families could be negatively impacted by these views".

In April, the CAA issued a vaccination order that they needed to be vaccinated by May 1. This applied to aviation security officers who had been seconded into MIQ facilities.

Some of the aviation security officers had been seconded to work at MIQ facilities and indicated they were not prepared to be vaccinated and moved back to other roles within terms of their secondment.

In May, meetings were held with three staff members and they were provided medical templates for their doctors if they were unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons. One person provided a medical certificate referencing a medical issue that would take six to 12 months to resolve while another had concerns about serious reactions of family members to vaccinations.

In June, separate meetings were held with the four staff members seeking their vaccination status. They were told that if they were not vaccinated by July 31, they would be unable to attend work and need to take unpaid or annual leave until they got a vaccine.

None of them got a vaccine.

Three staff said they would not consent to get a vaccine because of its safety, efficacy and integrity, and its manufacturing process.

The staff members did not agree that the vaccination was necessary, disputed the risk assessment findings, and suggested their roles could be changed so they would fall outside the requirement to get a vaccine.

However, the acting station manager disagreed saying that their duties require them to work "airside" and that no suitable redeployment options were available.

The staff, who worked at an international airport, disputed that in their roles they came into contact with incoming international passengers who are transported to MIQ, or that they accessed restricted airside locations with international arrivals exempt from MIQ.

AvSec determined that their roles as aviation security officers required them to be vaccinated by August 26 to carry out their duties as required under the Covid-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Amendment Order 2021.

On August 26, they were given notice of termination of their employment saying their "employment would end on 27 September 2021 unless a suitable redeployment opportunity became available".

All four confirmed they were not vaccinated and were placed on special leave for four weeks until September 27.

The aviation security officers sought reinstatement of their jobs, and claimed the work they undertook was not covered by the Amendment Order and that CAA breached its statutory obligations, the Bill of Rights, and the collective agreement.

But CAA said they were required to be vaccinated to carry out their jobs and opposed any reinstatement claiming it would be an offence under the Amendment Order for them to continue to work.

The group manager for Avsec said ASOs would be required to attend to inbound and outbound incidents in the event of an emergency and cited the example of the recent emergency when an airport was evacuated due to a suspected explosive device and ASOs could come into contact with inbound and outbound passengers.

An interim injunction of the ERA found that there was a serious issue to be tried with respect to unjustified dismissal but the arguable case for permanent reinstatement is not as strong and was declined.

A judicial review involving the staff members before the High Court set down for an urgent hearing about whether the Amendment Order was unlawful.

Costs are reserved until after the substantive determination.