The New Zealand Herald

Ministry ‘knows it has work to do’ on jabs for port workers

Growing frustratio­n at informatio­n scarcity on vaccine rates at border

- Andrea Fox

TIt is important to all of us that our port workers are empowered to discuss any issues regarding vaccinatio­n with their wha¯nau and communitie­s.

Ministry of Health

he Ministry of Health says it “knows it has work to do” to lift port worker vaccinatio­ns amid growing frustratio­n at a lack of informatio­n about vaccine rates among those who work wharfside but are not directly employed by ports.

The quarantini­ng of three vessels whose crews arrived infected with Covid has highlighte­d possible gaps in border protection, with anecdotal reports the vaccinatio­n rate is low among the workforce employed by port contractor­s.

Ports which directly employ most of their stevedores or wharfside workers have good oversight of vaccinatio­n rates, with employees captured in the Government’s first vaccinatio­n order for frontline border workers last year.

But stevedores at some ports in New Zealand’s $1.16 billion port industry, such as Port of Tauranga, are employed by contracted service providers or cargo owners, in the case of bulk cargoes.

About 6000 people can regularly visit the port for work over a week or two, Port of Tauranga said. Nearly all its 250 eligible frontline employees had been vaccinated.

Ports of Auckland employs its own stevedores but said the workers who visited the ports “in their hundreds” each week to service ship visits included the employees of contractor­s such as stevedores and provedores.

The Auckland Council-owned port company shared the concerns about the lack of vaccine data, a spokesman said. However he noted the Government’s recent new order which further extended the compulsion for border workers to be vaccinated.

“Up until now there’s been no obligation for people to tell us if they’ve been vaccinated, but the new order changes that.”

Port of Tauranga chief executive Leonard Sampson said he was awaiting responses from contractor­s about jabs levels among their staff. The port was trying to understand the potential impact on various services.

Anecdotall­y, rates seemed to vary considerab­ly among contractor teams, the Tauranga port said. The reasons for the perceived low rates included shift workers having difficulty getting time off work to meet appointmen­ts, vaccine hesitancy and resistance, and lack of urgency because of non-compulsion to date.

In response to Herald inquiries, the Health Ministry said as at Wednesday, 1503 of NZ’s 2700 or so frontline port workers were fully vaccinated and 103 had had one dose. The rest were due to be vaccinated in the next two months.

But the ministry did not say how many of that workforce were port contractor employees. This supports frustratio­n being expressed in the port sector at being unable to access official vaccinatio­n data because the ministry cites privacy reasons.

The Government has recently made an order for more of the border

workforce to be vaccinated. Privately employed border workers must have had their first dose by September 30 and new workers will need to have their first jab before starting work.

The 1100 port workers who the ministry says are still to be vaccinated will come under this order. The ministry said the number of port workers continued to fluctuate due to the ever-changing size, complexity and compositio­n of the border workforce.

New frontline ports employees were required to be fully vaccinated.

“We know we have work to do to encourage stronger uptake in the port sector. It is important to all of us that our port workers are empowered to discuss any issues regarding vaccinatio­n with their wha¯nau and communitie­s, so we’ll work with our DHBs and the wider health sector to provide trustworth­y informatio­n.”

District health boards would prioritise books for affected workers not yet vaccinated, the ministry said.

While the Government’s strengthen­ed vaccinatio­n order is welcomed by the port industry, it is also sparking some concern if employees refuse vaccinatio­n and so lose their jobs.

The Port of Tauranga notes that there is already a labour shortage in the sector and it expects that to worsen. It also said further cargo delays were likely.

It believed its port workers were at a low risk of contractin­g or transmitti­ng Covid-19 due to the extensive precaution­s it had successful­ly implemente­d for more than a year.

“Vaccinatio­n is a useful tool but we will continue to rely on all other measures too,” it said in a statement.

The port strongly encouraged jabs, providing vaccinatio­n stations for eligible staff on site and education.

 ?? Photo / NZME ?? The quarantini­ng of fishing crews who arrived in NZ infected with Covid has highlighte­d possible gaps in border protection.
Photo / NZME The quarantini­ng of fishing crews who arrived in NZ infected with Covid has highlighte­d possible gaps in border protection.

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