Update from Kate Hellstrom 13 October 2021

I hope all is going well with your preparation for the coming harvest season under challenging circumstances relating to labour supply and uncertainty around the evolving Covid-19 situation.

Visa news

To start with some good news – you will likely have heard that the Government will extend Working Holiday Visas (WHV) and Supplementary Seasonal Employment (SSE) work visas for six months to provide more certainty to employers and visa holders over the coming summer period. People with eligible visas will automatically have their visas extended by Immigration New Zealand for an additional six months from the date they expire, so they won’t need to apply for a new visa. This means you can employ these visa holders with certainty that they will be eligible to work this summer. 

I’ve heard from many of you that you are worried about the Covid-19 situation in New Zealand, and this uncertainty is causing people anxiety and stress. While there are many unknowns, there are a number of important Covid preparedness steps that workplaces can take.

Encouraging vaccination 

As workplaces and employers, we all have a role to play in getting more people vaccinated. Having a very high vaccination rate – aiming for 90% or higher – and strictly following all Covid protocols in the workplace, is the key to getting through any potential alert level changes this harvest season.

This weekend on ‘Super Saturday’ there will be a big push to get more people vaccinated – if you know of anyone, particularly in your workforce, who still needs to get vaccinated, here is a link to information on Super Saturday.

The Ministry of Health also has a range of resources to support businesses, which you can find here.

Can vaccination be required by employers?

We are waiting for clear guidance from the Government on this issue. To date, the Government has been reluctant to make vaccination compulsory, although this is starting to shift with the recent announcement about the mandate requiring teachers and healthcare workers to be vaccinated, so we’ll continue to watch this space.

In the meantime, workplaces need to decide what level of risk they are willing to accept by having unvaccinated staff.  WorkSafe guidance on their website here, is a useful place to start – this guidance states that business have to address, so far as is reasonably practicable, any risk they’ve identified because of Covid-19. This includes the risk of transferring the virus at work and any other risks that arise from implementing control measures against Covid-19. Businesses and services have duties to work together with their workers to address these risks. Workers should be engaged and consulted on all matters that affect their health and safety.   

The Chapman Trip advice here also provides useful guidance to businesses/employers. 

Covid protocols for summerfruit packhouses

At 2pm on Tuesday, 2 November, Summerfruit NZ will host a Zoom call for summerfruit packhouses, where representatives from other sectors (vegetables, kiwifruit and apples) will share the lessons they learned during the recent lockdown, and the Covid protocols they had in place.

The Zoom discussion will cover what could happen if you get Covid cases in your workplace, and the steps you should consider taking to help ensure your workplace can successfully operate under higher alert levels. A Zoom link for all those interested in this topic will be included in the next issue of Prunings and will be published on the Events page on the website.

Wellbeing

People are feeling understandably anxious about the uncertainty, and it’s important that you look after yourselves and those around you. If you want to check out the John Kirwan wellbeing webinar or the Gilbert Enoka podcast, they can be found on our mental health and wellbeing resource page here.