Businesses face $15k fines for failing to enforce vaccine pass

Author
Michael Neilson, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 23 Nov 2021, 9:52AM

Businesses face $15k fines for failing to enforce vaccine pass

Author
Michael Neilson, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 23 Nov 2021, 9:52AM

Businesses required to but that refuse to enforce vaccine passes could face fines of up to $15,000. 

The Government announced new details today to help businesses and employers decide when workers need to be vaccinated under the new traffic light system from December 3. 

It includes a tool outlining clear legal criteria which must be met before a business can require vaccination. 

Workers covered by the My Vaccine Pass mandate will need to have their first dose by December 3 and be fully vaccinated by January 17. 

It comes after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday announced New Zealand will move to the traffic light system on December 3, a framework that focuses heavily on vaccine passes. 

Auckland, still experiencing a significant outbreak, will go straight into the top red setting, while the rest of the country's fate will be determined by Cabinet next Monday - a decision largely to weigh on where vaccination rates stand. 

Auckland will also see a trial run of the new vaccination pass system from Thursday at hairdressers. 

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood announced a tool today to help clarify what work should be covered by vaccinated workers and for assessing when it is reasonable to require vaccination for other work. 

"Employers and employees have been asking for certainty on what roles may need to be done by vaccinated workers under the Covid-19 Protection Framework," Wood said. 

"Vaccine requirements in the workplace are a common tool many countries around the world are using to stop the spread of Covid and to protect their workers and customers from the virus. 

"This tool provides a clear, legal framework to help businesses make decisions about vaccinations in the workplace." 

Fines for businesses that do not enforce vaccine passes are being increased to $12,000 for a company, or $15,000 for a court-imposed fine for a company. 

Wood said the tool was developed with guidance provided from WorkSafe and input from BusinessNZ and the Council of Trade Unions. 

The tool will specify four key factors, at least three of which must be met, before it would be reasonable to require vaccination for particular work. 

"This new process won't override risk assessments that businesses have already done under the existing health and safety guidelines. Businesses can choose which one they use, and any assessments done to date remain valid." 

Legislation allowing the vaccination assessment tool to be created, as well as introducing four weeks' paid notice of termination and paid time off to get vaccinated, will be passed under urgency this week, Wood said. 

"This legislation will come into effect the day after it is passed. The assessment tool will then be available for businesses to use once regulations are made in mid-December under the amended law." 

The process has come under criticism from Opposition MPs - National's Covid-19 spokesman Chris Bishop saying the Government had been too slow to develop the passes needed for the framework and had not even introduced legislation for it yet. 

Bishop said the legislation would be introduced today "under urgency", but the Opposition still had not even seen it. 

With Parliament not sitting in the week starting November 29, the bill will have to be passed through all stages this week for the legislation to take effect in early December, Bishop said 

"This is a truly shambolic and repugnant way to make law that will affect every New Zealander. 

"To say the legislation is significant is an understatement. It will potentially affect the lives of every New Zealander, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, along with businesses both small and large. 

"The traffic light framework will impact every Kiwi, during summer and beyond." 

Act Party leader David Seymour said the December 3 "Freedom Day" should have been announced earlier, and questioned if it was delayed by not having the vaccine pass ready. 

"We have been waiting for a Government that is not prepared, rather than Aucklanders to get vaccinated." 

Wood said requiring staff to be vaccinated was "common sense" and would give confidence to customers who were vaccinated and means the business will be less likely to be affected by cases. 

The requirement had been tested and had received broad support, including from religious communities, Wood said. 

"Everyone wants to keep their staff, customers and congregations safe. 

"This requirement to be vaccinated applies to hospitality, events, gatherings, close contact businesses and gyms. 

"To continue doing work in these areas, workers will need to have their first vaccination by the day that the Covid-19 Protection Framework comes into effect, which will be Friday, December 3. These workers will need to be fully vaccinated by January 17, 2022, to continue doing that work." 

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB today that the verification app to record vaccine passes would be out in the next 24 to 48 hours. 

The app had been stress-tested and part of it is that they have to use the app stores where they are downloaded from. 

Robertson conceded the app may not be 100 per cent perfect but it would give them a chance to have a look at it before December 3. 

They were using hairdressing rather than hospitality because that industry involved a smaller number of people. 

As for what's opening didn't make sense, Robertson said lines had to be drawn at some stage and he wouldn't draw a line between hairdressers and beauticians, hairdressing was the one that was chosen in line with public health advice.