Covid vaccine mandate extended for Fire and Emergency NZ staff

Source: 1News

Fire and Emergency New Zealand have been granted a two-week extension to the Covid-19 vaccine mandate.

Affected Fire and Emergency staff were earlier given until November 15 to receive their first jab.

The deadline has since been extended to November 29 for their first dose and January 14 for their second, the New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union said in a statement.

It comes after the union called for an extension to be granted to “ensure the level and standards of response could be maintained”.

“We warned that FENZ would not be able to maintain response from the original deadline of 15 November due to a failure of planning and with high levels of undeclared vaccination status in career and volunteer firefighters."

The NZPFU called the extension "a short reprieve", adding that Fire and Emergency must now work alongside the union's representatives and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMES) to plan for any "reduced career and volunteer firefighters responding, and any impact in community risk and reduction".

National commander of Fire and Emergency New Zealand, (FENZ) Kerry Gregory told 1News the agency was “really pleased” an extension was signed on Saturday.

“We have around 2,000 career firefighters and other staff who are covered under the Order. Around 90 per cent of those have already let us know they are vaccinated,” he said.

“There are around 100 career firefighters and other staff covered by the Order who have advised us they are not vaccinated, and our priority now is to meet with each of these people to discuss what happens next.

“Unfortunately there are also around 50 career firefighters who haven’t let us know their vaccination status, even though they were legally obligated to do so – we are urgently following up with this group.

“We also have around 11,500 volunteers covered under the Order, and we’ve collected vaccination status from around 80 per cent of these people,” Gregory said.

“Around 600 of these volunteers across the country have advised they are not vaccinated and unfortunately around 1600 still need to advise us of their vaccination status as they are legally obligated to do. It’s really important for our planning that they do as soon as possible.”

'Mandating never an easy decision' - Hipkins

Covid-19 Response minister Chris Hipkins told 1News the extension for FENZ was in line with that offered to police.

"FENZ asked for more time and we agreed it made practical sense to get the best outcome.

"An extra two weeks aligns the deadline with the parts of Police staff also covered by the order. This includes police employees working where health services are provided," Hipkins said.

"Mandating is never an easy decision. Most eligible New Zealanders have already been vaccinated and we believe this also applies to the FENZ workforce, but as the job puts these workers in the high-risk category we consider this is the best course of action to protect them, their families and their communities.

"They work alongside medical practitioners at incidents and go into schools when responding to emergencies and to provide fire safety education.

"We know Delta is highly transmissible and the last thing anyone wants is to see whole sections of this critical workforce become sick and be out of action for extended periods, so vaccination is a bulwark against that possibility.

"We also know communities and work colleagues have concerns if people around them are not vaccinated.

"We expect the employer and staff representatives to continue to work together and follow the correct processes to ensure the workforce is protected against Covid-19," Hipkins said.