NZ's biggest retirement village operator wants all staff to be vaccinated

Ryman Healthcare chief executive Gordon Macleod. Photo: NZ Herald
Ryman Healthcare chief executive Gordon Macleod. Photo: NZ Herald
New Zealand's biggest retirement operator wants all staff working at its retirement villages and aged-care facilities to be vaccinated.

Ryman's proposed new policy requiring all its roles to be filled by vaccinated staff was released this week and has come as a shock to some workers who feel like they are being pressured into it.

Ryman Healthcare chief executive Gordon McLeod confirmed the company was in the process of seeking staff feedback on the proposed Covid-19 vaccination new policy aimed at ensuring its 38 villages were "safe havens" for residents from life-threatening viruses such as Covid.

He said it came as a result of Ryman carrying out a robust risk assessment based on public health and health and safety regulations which concluded an unvaccinated team member presented a much higher risk of transmitting the virus to its highly vulnerable residents.

The company was now waiting for staff feedback on the policy before deciding whether to implement the policy or an amended version of it.

But one caregiver said the manager of the North Island retirement village where she worked met with the handful of unvaccinated staff on Monday for an informal discussion about the new policy and warned them they could lose their jobs if they didn't get the jab.

The policy appeared to be fait accompli and the manager told them they had a week to decide about whether they would get the Covid vaccine, the worker said.

The woman said staff were really angry about having it "sprung" on them and were still in the dark about the process that would follow if they decided not to do it.

"All I know is I can't afford to lose my job and if push comes to shove I most probably will have to have the vaccine ...

"We are going to lose our jobs so they are making us do what we don't want to do."

There are only about 5 percent of staff at Ryman's retirement village and aged care centres who are not already vaccinated.

McLeod said there had been "an overwhelming show of support" for the vaccine and its efforts to protect residents, team members and families, he said.

He disagreed they were asking anyone who was unwilling to get a Covid-19 vaccine to be vaccinated," he said.

Should the policy go ahead, Ryman had not yet decided what would happen with current team members who didn't want to get vaccinated, other than being committed to "explore all reasonable options".

In the meantime PPE was provided to unvaccinated staff to give them additional protection against contracting the virus.

In Australia, it is now mandatory for aged-care workers to be vaccinated.

Under NZ law, businesses cannot require any individual to be vaccinated but can require that certain work must only be done by vaccinated workers, where there is high risk of contracting and transmitting Covid-19 to others, according to Employment NZ's website.

The company is required to carry out a health and safety assessment that looks at the likelihood of workers being exposed to Covid while performing the role and
the potential consequences of that exposure on others, including if they are at high risk of severe illness if they get it.

Retirement Village Association executive director John Collyns said there was not a one rule fits all approach, but his personal view was that villages would be at least requiring any new staff to be vaccinated because it was the only effective way employers could mitigate the risk to residents.

 

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