Employer reveals vaccine delay for staff working in MIQ and hospitals

The employer says her staff (not pictured) enter managed isolation facilities and hospitals...
The employer says her staff (not pictured) enter managed isolation facilities and hospitals regularly, but haven't been vaccinated yet - not for a lack of trying. Photo: NZ Herald/File
An employer whose staff routinely work in Auckland's managed isolation facilities and hospitals is expressing frustration at not being able to get her workers vaccinated.

After five weeks of unanswered emails and non-returned phone calls, the employer wants to highlight the impossible position businesses like hers are being put in by government agencies.

"I'm feeling gutted for my guys, they've worked through level 4 with family at home and the worry of all of that, they've been awesome and now they seem to not matter," the employer said.

"If you're not either the MIQ [staff] or a government department, [the Government] doesn't seem to give a damn."

Karen spoke to The New Zealand Herald on the condition her workers and her business were not identifiable to minimise any repercussions caused by speaking out.

Karen's business sees her staff enter about 200 facilities per week across Auckland and Waikato, including MIQ facilities, hospitals, apartment buildings and industrial sites.

The small, tight-knit team operated right through last year's level 4 lockdown and carried out a vital service which keeps people in those facilities healthy.

Karen's first attempt at arranging vaccinations for her staff was three calls to the Covid-19 dedicated Healthline about six weeks ago.

The first person Karen spoke to claimed her staff were considered general public and would be vaccinated in the final round of the Pfizer vaccine rollout set to start in July.

A second person told Karen to contact her employer. As the employer, Karen asked where she could find further information, but was given no answer.

On the third try, Karen was informed it was critical her staff be vaccinated and a supervisor would call her back. Karen was never called back.

Not to be discouraged, Karen sent emails to multiple Covid-19-related addresses, as well as an email to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment – all of which she received no response from.

On Tuesday, Karen finally got through to a Healthline staffer who agreed her staff needed vaccinating, but could only register Karen, not her workers.

"I don't need to be registered, I'm not going into the facilities – it's my guys that I care about."

After giving the Healthline staff member her own details, the call was cut off. Having rung back since and asking for the same Healthline staffer, Karen was told the staffer was not available, while her workers were yet to be contacted.

Increasing Karen's fears are the conditions imposed upon her staff entering MIQ facilities. Pre-Covid, her staff would sometimes enter and leave the hotels only seeing one person. Now, the workers are forced to sign in at reception and take public elevators.

Within hours of visiting MIQ facilities, Karen's staff then travel to multiple hospitals – which haven't enforced any testing or vaccination requirement.

The employer is speaking out to show the risk her employees are operating under every day. Photo:...
The employer is speaking out to show the risk her employees are operating under every day. Photo: NZ Herald/File
"Walking that tightrope every day for our guys is exhausting," she said.

All of Karen's staff who visit MIQ facilities are tested within 5-7 days after being at the facility. However, Karen spoke through tears of the risk her workers and their whānau faced every day.

"I've got one guy who goes home to a wife who's got heart problems, I've got another guy whose dad is in and out of hospital all the time - you know, it's not fair."

One of Karen's main concerns was the impact on other businesses. She said she had heard that businesses essential to reducing virus transmission were considering abandoning MIQ building services work after vaccination delays.

Karen said she was fortunate she had the time to pursue vaccination for her workers – a luxury not all businesses could afford.

"I can make the time to try and make this happen, the others, who are one-man bands, if they're sitting on the phone for two hours, they're not making money.

"They don't have the time to keep pushing for themselves, so I would like to speak up on behalf of those who can't."

This week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern criticised the company, First Security, whose staff included two of the latest positive Covid-19 cases at the Grand Millennium MIQ facility. The workers, who had not been vaccinated, were among 21 per cent of its staff at the time which hadn't been vaccinated.

"You have Jacinda on the TV saying this security company should have got people vaccinated, it's their fault. Well hello, we're trying," Karen said.

Karen hoped her story would make the Government expand its vaccination group criteria to allow her staff and others like them to be vaccinated immediately. To other businesses in her shoes, Karen had little advice.

"To the people in my position, there's nothing you can say but, 'good luck to you'."

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said they were concerned to hear Karen's frustrations in securing vaccination appointments, and expressed interest in addressing her concerns.

A Managed Isolation and Quarantine spokesperson said they were unable to provide further information without knowing the name of the business.

By May 1, all MIQ work subject to a required testing order, and assessed as being high-risk due to Covid-19, will be undertaken only by vaccinated staff.

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