Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s crackdown on unvaccinated frontline MIQ workers underway

The Government is facing heat over the number of frontline MIQ workers who have yet to be vaccinated and has set a hard deadline as to when they need to get the jab.

And Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has warned that the bar for these workers not getting the Covid-19 vaccination before the end of the month is “very high”.

“There is essentially no reason that we consider acceptable.”

She confirmed yesterday that 86 per cent of MIQ staff – some 3472 workers – have received the vaccine.

That leaves 538 people in this cohort who still need to be vaccinated.

These workers now have until April 30 to be vaccinated – if they’re not, they will be redeployed.

“If there is not an option to redeploy them, then it will be up to the employer to work through what happens with that individual, but they cannot work in MIQ.”

But Act leader David Seymour said waiting that long was unacceptable, given the risk of another community outbreak.

He said the Government should use the powers afforded to it under the Covid-19 Act to tell unvaccinated frontline MIQ staff if they haven’t got the jab by this Sunday, “don’t come in on Monday”.

“Stop pussyfooting about and take the necessary steps to protect New Zealanders and the economy from another outbreak of Covid-19,” he said of Ardern.

But director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said this was just simply not logistically possible.

“You can’t immediately withdraw 10 or 20 per cent of your workforce and still run the facilities.”

Speaking to reporters at 1pm yesterday, he was not able to explicitly say how many frontline workers had not yet been vaccinated.

The reason for that, he said, was the workforce was “changing all the time”.

There are 300 employers at MIQ, airports and ports around the country and that is changing daily.

“So it’s a very difficult thing to pin down exactly how many people haven’t been vaccinated.”

But come 4pm at her post-Cabinet press conference, Ardern was quick to provide this specific number.

She said that 3472 out of the 4010 MIQ workers to date have got the vaccine and more information would be provided tomorrow.

This figure does not, however, include airport workers, port workers and other Government employees working on the frontlines but not directly in MIQ.

But it does take into account the private contractors the Government pays to work at MIQ facilities – such as security.

And it’s with security that the issue of frontline workers not being vaccinated was brought into focus.

A Grant Millennium security worker – working for privately contracted First Security – tested positive for Covid-19 last week.

They had not received the vaccination as they had missed two appointments.

And yesterday, the Ministry of Health reported another security worker – who had worked the same shift as the first Covid-positive worker – had also contracted the disease.

They too had not received the vaccine but were unable to get as they had been in self-isolation since the first security worker tested positive, Bloomfield said.

Asked why there were still MIQ and frontline workers yet to be vaccinated, Bloomfield said: “Because it’s a large workforce”.

There were a “range of reasons why people haven’t been vaccinated”, Bloomfield said.

First Security, as of the end of last week, had79 per cent of its workforce vaccinated.

Ardern said yesterday that this number needs to be 100 per cent by May 1, or “they will need to withdraw those workers who are currently in our MIQ facilities”.

In a statement, First Security said it has met all the Government’s Covid-19 health and safety obligations around MIQ.

“We have done, and continue to do, everything possible to ensure all employees working at MIQ facilities are vaccinated by the April 30 deadline set by MBIE, whilst acknowledging employee rights.”

In terms of those workers which have not had the vaccine yet, Bloomfield said they were at the “head of the queue” in terms of having conversations with employers about redeployment.

“But they won’t have been required to be redeployed yet.”

That means they could still be working at MIQ facilities unvaccinated.
Seymour said this was unacceptable.

“The Government won’t play hardball with unions and force those employees unwilling to get a Covid vaccine to vacate MIQ premises for another 17 days.”

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