The Public Service has created a strong foundation for our response to COVID-19, through workplace vaccination policies, and where necessary, mandates for some public service agencies.
We now have good vaccination coverage and that has contributed to the success we have had in responding to Omicron. But we need to maintain a strong foundation of protection so we can continue to safely deliver services and keep our people safe.
While the Government has signalled we are moving beyond the peak of the current Omicron wave and the need for certain mandates, the health risks to our workforce and the New Zealanders we serve remain. The current health advice is that vaccination and boosters help to reduce transmission of the virus, and we will need to maintain high vaccination levels (including increasing our uptake of boosters) into the foreseeable future.
Accordingly, our guidance to agencies continues to be:
- Agencies should keep vaccination policies under regular review
- Agencies should update their health and safety risk assessment and vaccination policy in light of updated health advice or changing circumstances and to meet the specific needs of their workforce and workplace. Worksafe have provided guidance on reviewing risk assessments for managing COVID-19 in the
- At the very least, agencies should continue to engage with workers and their unions to support and encourage vaccinations including boosters
- Some situations may mean that a vaccine policy that requires some or all of a workforce to be fully vaccinated (with booster) is still appropriate. Agencies are encouraged to get legal advice in this situation. MBIE have also provided information on other reasons for requiring vaccination of workers
- Agencies should retain the ability to move quickly in response to emerging waves, new variants or updated health advice.
Agencies should now start planning to refresh their workplace assessments and to review their workplace vaccination policies. In doing so, agencies are encouraged to consult with staff and union(s) about those changes, and, if the agency chooses to relax its policy for the meantime, to agree what circumstances may cause a return to tighter settings in future, to allow a rapid escalation if required.
Every workplace, and workforce, is different, and it is expected that agencies will tailor their responses to address their particular workplace and workforce context. It is therefore anticipated that the public sector will start to see a lot more variation in our vaccine policies. However, at the very least, it is expected that every agency will continue to have a vaccine policy that educates, expects, and supports workers to be vaccinated (see below for ideas on how to do this).
For other agencies, or parts of an agency’s workforces, the health and safety assessment (or a vaccine mandate) may mean that stronger measures are required. This may include retaining a requirement to be vaccinated (with booster) to do part of, or all of a role.
There may be other options or contexts that sit between a policy built on “educate, expect and support” and a requirement for the workforce to be vaccinated to enter the workplace. For instance:
- An agency may consider that a particular population group that they serve is more vulnerable, and that only vaccinated staff could engage directly with that group. However, this may be achieved through seeking volunteers who are vaccinated, for example
- A worksite that is occasionally visited may require vaccinations (eg aged resident site) - again, that may be achievable through seeking volunteers who are vaccinated (with boosters)
- Additional protection or actions may be required to keep staff safe as an alternative to full vaccination - for instance, more mask wearing or other actions to stop the spread of COVID-19.