Wednesday, 3rd November, 2021
Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to attend a webinar with Minister Grant Robertson, hosted by Business New Zealand, to discuss our favourite topic, the COVID-19 protection framework. The Minister made a number of key statements that I thought you would be interested in, these are as follows:
The Government will implement a risk assessment framework to determine whether employers can require vaccines into law by 1 December. To achieve this date, the draft legislation will need to be considered late this week or early next, followed by a short Select Committee process. The framework will be made available before it is passed into law. More on the proposed legislation below.
Alert levels will continue until we reach 90% vaccination rates across all DHBs and the wage subsidy and Resurgence Support payments (RSP) will continue for as long as Alert levels remain. Once we move into the traffic light framework, a payment similar to the RSP will be available to support businesses to move into the framework and then the financial support will change.
Under green and orange settings, there will be no across the board support. Under the red setting however, targeted support will be available to industries most greatly affected (such as events and hospitality). There will be an announcement mid this month on what this support will look like.
The public health advice on the amount of time required in isolation is evolving (read, this is likely to reduce).
Perhaps the big one, in the first quarter of 2022, we will see international travel opening up, with Australia more towards the beginning of the year.
There will be announcements soon on the availability of alternate vaccines in New Zealand.
Next up, I listened to Patrick Hindmarsh, an architect with the Ministry of Health (MoH), on the build of the NZ COVID Pass (catchy name but only a working title). While it is still subject to policy and legislation yet to be passed, the extent and focus of the work in this area means it is assumed this will occur.
The Pass will be in either digital or paper form, issued by MoH to a "consumer", being an individual who as to prove their status. The nature of the Pass is such that it will record you as "vaccinated" whether you were vaccinated in NZ, vaccinated internationally with another approved vaccine or are unvaccinated but with medical clearance. A "verifier" being a business or other entity will scan your QR code and a result will be displayed. Each pass will have an expiry date and you will need to get it renewed.
MoH is currently looking for IT suppliers who might build verifier apps and will be holding workshops on this. If you are interested, you can contact the MoH architect team at email@example.com. You need to have the ability to download the latest set of public keys from a known endpoint and after that be able to operate offline (if you know what that means you have a head start!) and you must not store the data or use it for purposes other than verification.
The reason MoH has gone for a pass rather than the EU certificate is that it requires a much reduced data set to be held on individuals. That said, once the Pass is available, you will also be able to apply for the much more [personally] detailed EU certificate also, but this will not be used domestically.
Finally, I heard from Phil McKay of Business New Zealand who is working closely with DPMC on the legislation relating to vaccine mandates. As you can appreciate the area is fraught and covers Privacy law, Bill of Rights as well as Employment law. As businesses consider their requirements around certification and vaccination, the only strong protections that exist are for those covered by Public Health orders.
While you can currently make a call on requiring vaccination after you have undertaken a risk assessment to underpin the decision you have made, introducing legislation is to address your risk of challenge. The test courts consider is whether you have been reasonable in making your decision and the Government intends to strengthen your position if you are operating in a high risk environment.
In addition to a legislative mandate, you can expect to see more use of Health Orders. There is consideration being given to whether other sectors fit with essential services such as infrastructure and public transport that could be covered under extended Health Orders. There is also consideration being given to where a vaccine certificate is mandated, that there is a de facto requirement to apply this both to visitors, customers and staff.
The three key areas of differentiation will be whether you have to under a Health Order, decide after a legislative process to, or whether a certificate would act as a barrier to access essential services.
Of note, a vaccine certificate is attached to a place, not an employer. For example if you had a bakery and your head office was adjacent but separate, the certificate could apply for the bakery and not your corporate staff (following an assessment). A risk assessment toolkit will shortly be available, as well as webinars to support you.
While this is likely to leave you with many more questions than I have current answers for, I can assure you we will continue to keep you up to date as new information comes to hand.
As always, the Chamber team is here to help.