New Zealand’s customs agency has fired nine border workers who refused to get the Covid-19 vaccine. The country has required all frontline border workers to be vaccinated by the end of April.
In February, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said the government would not be making the vaccine compulsory for frontline staff, and that those who declined the vaccine would be moved into backroom roles.
But no other work could be found to redeploy the nine workers who were in fixed term employment at the maritime border, Jacinda Funnell, Customs’ deputy chief executive for people and capability, said.
“We regret that these individuals have had to leave employment, and understand what a difficult situation this is for them,” Funnell said in a statement.
She said about 95% of Customs’ frontline staff who were required to be vaccinated had received their first dose, and 85% had received the second dose of the vaccine.
Customs had been discussing options with staff since the beginning of March, she said, and had told them that “options for redeployment were very limited due to no other Customs functions existing in the area”. She said the agency had also explored redeployment options across the wider public service.
A Ministry of Health order made under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act has made it a legal requirement for anyone working in high-risk border environments to be vaccinated by the 1 May deadline.
In April, the New Zealand Defence Force threatened to fire service members who refused to get a Covid-19 vaccination.
In correspondence to staff published by RNZ, the chief of Defence Force, Air Marshal Kevin Short, said: “Electing to not meet the baseline immunisation readiness criteria will result in a review of an individual’s future service.”
New Zealand’s unions have spoken out against mandatory vaccination. E tū union has said: “We do not support mandatory vaccination and will not tolerate discrimination against workers who choose not to vaccinate.” The Public Service Association union has said unvaccinated border staff “should be redeployed, and their employment rights must be protected”.