Covid 19 Delta outbreak: 6.1% of port workers not vaccinated in the Bay after deadline

The deadline for all border workers to be vaccinated has passed and 6.1 per cent of port workers in the Bay still haven’t had a jab.

Some, however, waited until the “last minute” to get their first dose, potentially saving their jobs just ahead of the deadline.

From October 1, all border workers must have had at least one dose of the vaccine to continue working at the New Zealand border.

Ministry of Health data showed that in the Bay of Plenty District Health Board region, 74 per cent of port border workers were fully vaccinated and 19.9 per cent had received one dose as of September 30.

Previous ministry records indicated there were about 490 port workers in the region.

Rail and Maritime Transport Union president Aubrey Wilkinson said workers who waited until the “last minute” to get the jab “weren’t entirely happy about the vaccination”.

“But they felt pressured to be vaccinated otherwise no jab, no job.”

Workers hoped the vaccination order would be rescinded and they would not have to take the vaccine, he said.

“Then they decided… ‘I’m going to have to do it otherwise I’m not going to be able to feed my family in the current job that I’m in.

“They then went ahead in the last week, almost to the last day, and got vaccinated.”

The Ministry of Health and Maritime New Zealand had set up vaccination centres in the last week to accommodate those workers, which Wilkinson described as an “awesome initiative”.

Some port workers were “anti-vaccination,” while others did not believe they needed the vaccine because their “first line of defence” was PPE gear, he said.

“Before vaccinations became compulsory, they were using PPE gear to make themselves safe in regards to Covid-19,” he said. “[A] few took a stance and said PPE gear is all we need.”

Wilkinson said unvaccinated employees had options for re-deployment within port operations.

He knew of five people in the union in Tauranga who had either left or been re-deployed.

Maritime Union of New Zealand National Secretary Craig Harrison said unvaccinated border employees would be “going through a process with their employer” to explore “alternative duties”.

If this was not available, there was a possibility that “the company would like to terminate their employment”, Harrison said.

Harrison had not heard of anyone who had been terminated, but there were “three or four in our union” going through the process of finding alternative work.

A Port of Tauranga spokesperson said about 96 per cent of its eligible employees had received at least one dose by the September 30 deadline, with most having had two doses.

“We do not have any unvaccinated individuals carrying out work that is covered by the mandatory vaccination order.”

The Port of Tauranga was asked what would happen to employees who remained unvaccinated and if they would be re-deployed or let go.

“We are in consultation with those that remain unvaccinated,” the spokesperson said.

As there were “such low numbers” of unvaccinated employees, the spokesperson did not want to breach individuals’ privacy by sharing further details.

The Bay of Plenty District Health Board’s Covid-19 incident controller Trevor Richardson said the board was “confident” that access to the vaccine and information about it had been “readily available” in the lead-up to the deadline.

“We have worked closely with the Port of Tauranga and companies employing port workers to improve access to the vaccine, and also to combat misinformation,” Richardson said.

The DHB had held regular on-site information sessions to answer questions and address concerns, he said.

In September, DHB vaccination teams and a local Iwi provider were administering the vaccine on-site via bookings and ‘walk-in’ clinics, which were open at various times of the day to cover shift work, he said.

The Ministry of Health’s Covid-19 vaccination operations group manager Astrid Koornneef said “further support”, including the option of redeployment or re-employment, was being offered to the “small number” of unvaccinated workers.

In response to Wilkinson’s comments about PPE gear, Koornneef said while PPE was an “important tool” for all frontline workers, being fully vaccinated was the “best defence” for workers in “high-risk environments”.

“This is particularly important given there have been positive Covid cases involving infected ship’s crews at the maritime border.”

The ministry had been working with the wider border sector to lift vaccination rates, she said.

This included a “very strong focus” on working with port companies, the maritime industry, the unions representing maritime workers, sector agencies and DHBs to increase the vaccination uptake and address concerns.

“Intensive work” had been undertaken to offer education, information and other resources to workers and to ensure they and their employers had time to understand and comply with the amended Vaccination order requirements announced by the Government in mid-July.

Tauranga MP Simon Bridges, of National, said now that the Government had not met its own deadline, the Government needed to explain why and what they were going to do about it.

“People deserve clear answers without spin.”

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