Protest in Balclutha against vaccine mandates

Anti-mandatory vaccination protest organiser Michael Magiera prepares tractor and signage at his...
Anti-mandatory vaccination protest organiser Michael Magiera prepares tractor and signage at his Owaka Valley dairy farm yesterday afternoon. PHOTO: RICHARD DAVISON
Balclutha's streets will echo to the sound of motor-driven protest once again today.

Several dozen tractors and supporters are expected to rally in the South Otago town at lunchtime, in an effort to raise concerns about the Government’s expanding mandatory Covid-19 vaccination policy.

The protest is organised by Owaka Valley dairy farmer Michael Magiera, who said he had been spurred to action by news he received last Monday regarding an internal mandatory vaccination policy review at Farmlands Co-operative, of which he is a shareholder.

Mr Magiera said he understood Farmlands was considering firing staff who chose not to get vaccinated.

He believed vaccination should be a matter of personal choice, without penalties attached.

At present, according to Government regulations, only medical workers must be be vaccinated.

On October 26, the Government announced those working in hospitality, or in close proximity to others would also have to be vaccinated once a new vaccination certificate system began, or risk losing their jobs.

The mandate could eventually be extended to other types of work, it said.

Mr Magiera said he was concerned the Farmlands move could be the ‘‘thin end of the wedge’’.

‘‘As shareholders and ordinary people we strongly disapprove of this mandate and do not want to be associated with a co-operative which proposes to coerce staff to ‘get the jab or no job’.’’

He said the protest would be peaceful, and was intended to increase awareness of the issue.

‘‘It’s a matter of principle both in this particular situation [with Farmlands], and in a more general sense. I’m concerned people seem to be quietly accepting this change in policy, which I and many others see as Government overreach.

‘‘We’d like to give others the confidence to speak up ... and create a snowball effect of protest.’’

Mr Magiera said he and his supporters were not ‘‘anti-vaxxers’’, and were not affiliated with other protest groups.

The Otago Daily Times contacted Farmlands to raise Mr Magiera’s concerns.

It responded with the following statement:

‘‘Farmlands Co-operative is currently seeking feedback from staff on a proposed mandated vaccination against Covid-19 for all staff. This proposal follows a thorough risk assessment process. Given we are still in the consultation phase, we are waiting until we have had time to receive and review all feedback from our staff before making a public comment on what this could mean for our sites.’’

Today’s protest begins at 11am, outside the South Otago A&P Showgrounds on Glasgow St, Balclutha, and will end at Balclutha Farmlands on Baxter St.

richard.davison@odt.co.nz

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