Covid 19 Protection Framework FAQ
Under the new COVID traffic light system, the onus is on businesses to manage risk in their workplaces. There are vaccine mandates for some businesses, mainly due to interaction with the public, but plant production itself is not mandated. As of December 15 the hard border around Auckland has been softened. As of December 30, all areas currently at the Red traffic light setting will move to Orange with the exception of Northland.
This FAQ is designed to help plant producers to make decisions about how to manage their workplace risk and staff under this new COVID management phase. It will be updated as we receive more official information about the protection framework and its settings. MPI has just released a new guidance document for the primary sector, which we recommend you read.
How can I assess the COVID risk at my workplace?
A new Government Covid risk assessment tool has been released, which considers factors such as:
- Workers are in an area with less than 100m2 indoor space
- Workers work less than 1m apart from other people
- Workers are routinely near others for more than 15 minutes
- Workers provide services to people vulnerable to Covid-19.
The reality is that in plant production, workers tend to undertake many tasks some of which have a higher risk than others, but the overall risk isn’t likely to require a vaccination mandate. NZPPI members have reported deploying unvaccinated staff from any higher risk tasks, such as greenhouse or chiller work, to lower risk tasks. If you decide to mandate vaccinations, then this could result in employment ramifications for any unvaccinated staff. Employment NZ has guidance on this.
What if one of my staff members tests positive for COVID?
Contact your DHB as soon as possible and they will work closely with you on next steps.
The Government has released updated definitions of close and casual contacts. Construction Health and Safety New Zealand (CHASNZ), has developed a COVID-19 Contact Classification Process that defines staff contacts (with the Covid positive person) and has various flowcharts on what workers should do and what should happen on-site.
The crucial step is to already have robust workplace Covid safety policies in place such as mask-wearing mandates, staff work bubbles, good hygiene, scanning, record-keeping of employee vaccination status and contact tracing. One NZPPI member has reported to us that when a staff member tested positive, these policies meant their local DHB allowed the nursery to remain operational.
Ensure you also have a continuity plan for all parts of the business so that if anyone - from the owner/CEO down - needs to isolate, that the nursery remains operational across all tasks. Have clear instructions and contact details in this plan.
If you do have a workplace outbreak, contact Matt at NZPPI on 027 622 9255 as we are in contact with DHBs to support you if a positive COVID case is identified in your business.
Who pays for the stand down period if a staff member is waiting on a Covid test or has tested positive and needs to self-isolate?
The COVID-19 Short-Term Absence Payment is available for businesses to help pay their employees who cannot work from home while they wait for a COVID-19 test result. The Leave Support Scheme is to help pay employees who need to self-isolate.
There’s a one-off payment of $359 for each eligible worker. You can only apply for it once, for each eligible employee, in any 30-day period (unless a health official or doctor tells the employee to get another test). You cannot get more than one COVID-19 payment for the same employee at the same time.
Anyone who is unwell should call Healthline on 0800 611 116 or talk to their doctor or health provider. Businesses should encourage their employees to do this if they're unwell.
What is the process for introducing Rapid Antigen Testing in the workplace?
Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) are now available for businesses to purchase. RATs are another tool to support businesses, staff and workplaces to overcome COVID-19 as their use can help reduce spread by identifying individuals early. The Ministry of Health has a comprehensive RAT guide for businesses that we strongly advise you to read. It has information on how to access RAT and from whom (you need to source tests from MoH approved suppliers only), how to use it in the workplace and what to do if a staff member tests positive. Business NZ also has details on the types of RAT available and advice for business.
Basically, RATS are best used as a management tool, especially for unvaccinated staff, to help ensure the health and safety of the rest of the workplace. RATs are easy to use, under supervision, and have a 15 minute result but are not as sensitive as PCR tests. Individuals who have COVID-19 symptoms should still seek a PCR test via their local health professional.
If a staff member refuses to comply with workplace RAT regulations then they could be stood down. The Ministry of Health is not neutral on this issue – they want people to comply workplace RAT in the same way as workplace drug and alcohol testing – it’s a health and safety issue. The MoH guide has templates for Standard Operating Procedures for RAT.
How do I manage my unvaccinated staff members?
The best approach for plant producers is to keep encouraging any unvaccinated staff to get vaccinated. Approaches taken by members include incentives such as supermarket vouchers, giving them time off to get vaccinated or driving them to a vaccination centre or mobile site. Some members have reported trying to get a better understanding of the staff member’s objections and then giving them the scientific information to combat any misinformation about the health impacts of the disease. This approach was successful.
However, there will always be people at some workplaces who are adamant about not getting vaccinated. For the health and safety of others, unvaccinated staff might need to work in separate bubbles, maintain physical distancing and mask-wearing and be regularly tested through RAT.
Travelling into Northland
Police checkpoints are operating for northbound travellers entering Northland from Auckland. You will need to show your My Vaccine Pass or a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 72 hours before crossing the boundary to enter Northland. You do not need to follow these requirements if you are transiting Auckland without stopping — for example travelling directly from Hamilton to Northland. The checkpoints will be on:
- State Highway 1 at Uretiti
- State Highway 12 near Maungaturoto
The checkpoints will operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. More information on Police checkpoints in Northland
Remember that we are here
We are constantly talking to members about best practice, hearing case studies and liaising with MPI, Ministry of Health and other agencies to get the latest updates on policy and advice. If you have any questions please let us know and we will endeavour to get answers.
Matt Dolan, CEO NZPPI email@example.com; 021 622 9255.