Vaccination mandate pressure

Now the Government has announced Covid-19   vaccinations will be mandatory for many health and education workers, the pressure is on from private  employers   who want to follow suit with their employees.
They want legal protection should they decide to exclude existing employees and prospective employees who   are not vaccinated or not willing to share their status and assumed therefore to be unvaccinated.

But is a one-size-fits-all approach the best one when the risk posed by Covid-19 is not equal across   all types of workplaces?

For instance, it is hard to see workers are at high risk in outdoor settings, where they may often work alone and have   little or no contact with members of the public who may transmit the disease.

As the WorkSafe guidance on the issue says, the focus of employers   should be on the role performed by the worker rather than the individual doing that work.

It   proposes employers should do a  health and safety risk assessment asking questions including how many people the worker in that role comes into contact with, how easy it would be to  identify  those people, how close the worker  would be to others and whether they were in an outdoor or indoor space, how long they would be near to others, whether the work involved regular interaction with those at  higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19,  and whether the risk of Covid-19   infection and transmission is higher at work than outside work.

The guidance also advises employers look at other controls in the workplace which could reduce the risk.

The employer would then have to decide whether it was reasonable, on health and safety grounds, to insist on vaccination.

Employers may be nervous about that because this reasonableness has not yet been tested.

There are competing views — those who consider it would breach civil liberties and be contrary to the Bill of Rights Act and those who see vaccination as a necessary measure if people want to be able to participate fully in a Covid-19 world.

Another aspect is that we do not yet know how long the vaccinated will be protected. If it turns out that boosters are soon required, will employers see it as their role to insist on that, too? What would happen if some previously Covid-19 vaccinated workers chose not to do that?

The Government, although it may consider there is reasonable support for wide Covid-19 vaccination mandating, may be reluctant to go much further than it has already.

If all employment were to become dependent on being vaccinated, what would happen to those unvaccinated? Pushed further to the margins of society, would that increasing alienation make them feel like martyrs and result in them being prone to more extreme behaviour? Would that be good for the team of five million cliche?

In the race to get as many of the over 12-year-olds vaccinated as possible as the Delta variant stalks through parts of the North Island, is there a danger we are losing some of the other important messaging around managing Covid-19 risks? The vaccine is best at protecting those vaccinated from severe illness or hospital admission should they contract the illness, but while it reduces   transmission of the virus, it does not eliminate that possibility.

So we must continue with mask wearing, hand washing, tracing our movements and getting tested if we have symptoms, even when we are vaccinated.

Perhaps those employers who want the Government to make decisions for them on vaccination requirements might be better to wait and see what fishhooks there may be following the recently announced health and education workforce edicts.

In the meantime, it makes sense for them to openly communicate with workers on all relevant Covid-19 issues for their workplaces, do all they can to ensure staff are well informed about the vaccine benefits and encourage  them to become vaccinated, in work time if necessary.