Meat Industry Wants Vaccine Mandate

First published on RNZ

The meat processing industry said it would support a vaccine mandate for staff.

It comes after the government's announcement last week that it would make vaccinations mandatory for education and health sector employees.

The Meat Industry Association believes the government should also consider a mandate for other high-risk sectors, such as meat processing.

MIA spokesperson Esther Guy-Meakin said it had written to the Food Safety and Associate Health Minister, Ayesha Verrall, to make its views clear.

"The nature of our industry, particularly on the processing side, is that our workers, do shifts side by side, in indoor environments and while we do have comprehensive protocols that are ensuring physical distancing, personal hygiene and a range of other protective and cautionary measures. The fact is they are in a higher-risk environment.

"And so, from our perspective, the vaccination is the best tool that we have to protect our workers and avoid the spread of COVID-19."

Esther Guy-Meakin said efforts to encourage all staff to get vaccinated were continuing.

She said although individual processors could look at making vaccination a health and safety requirement at plants, this was a difficult and complex process and a sector-wide mandate was preferable.

Horticulture NZ is also seeking certainty from the government about vaccines in the workplace.

Apart from sectors that have a mandate to get vaccinated, it's a personal choice to get the vaccine.

Horticulture NZ chief executive, Nadine Tunley, said that was putting employers in a tricky spot.

"We'd really like to see the government come out and start to make some clear rules or regulations, particularly in the employment space. You know, for us as food handlers and producers, we have big pack houses where we can have hundreds of people in close proximity. They are handling food. It's getting packed for international and domestic markets.

"If there are one or two staff members within those facilities refusing vaccination, where do we stand, from a rights perspective? Being able to ask those people if they are vaccinated because we need to fit our health standards, or potentially not have them on the staff in those roles? Because we have to pack the product, we have to handle the food that people consume."

Tunley said if New Zealand is going to be living with COVID-19 in the community, businesses need clarity on how to operate.

"We just have to make sure there are clear rules of how we work. Because again, for those staff that do take all precautions and follow the rules, we don't want to unfairly disadvantage them by having to wear excessive amounts of PPE, or make them do separate shifts."