A year into the global pandemic, the roll out of vaccinations is being welcomed by many workers on the frontline.
When Customs worker Ashley Mead was about to get her Covid-19 vaccination, they asked her which arm she preferred.
Her thoughts turned to netball. She’s the team goal shooter and a sore arm is unhelpful on the court.
No worries, she was told, and the needle stayed away from her good arm. As it turned out she had little reason to worry.
“It wasn’t stingy or painful or anything,” she says.
“My arm was basically fine. Almost like I bumped into a door.”
It was a Thursday when Ashley got the call telling her she was booked in. Her appointment was for the following Thursday, during work hours, and she was paid to attend.
She wasn’t the first of her colleagues to get it. But as a deployable officer who visits the airport most weeks, she knew she wouldn’t wait long.
She had to fill out two forms, one giving consent and another identifying her household contacts, which she handed over on the day.
“I turned up twenty minutes early in case there was admin to complete, but there wasn’t. I found it very easy,” she said.
“It was standard questions, who I am, where I work, then you put on a mask and standard PPE and in you go. We sat down for half an hour afterwards, another person came over and gave us a little card and that was that.”
Ashley told Te Mahinga Ora there’s been lots of conversation about the vaccine at work, most of it positive.
“It just seems like a normal part of life. We had vaccines as kids that we needed, now the world has changed and evolved and there’s new vaccines we need.
“It’s been hyped as a big deal, and obviously we follow strict safety protocols while getting it, but we’re all doing that anyway.”
PSA delegate and Customs veteran Mike Smith hasn’t been vaccinated yet but is happy to see others getting it done.
“I’m not quite so close to the coalface anymore, I drive a desk. But all the frontline staff are in the middle of getting vaccinated,” he says.
“The Service have put out weekly updates and organised online meetings to talk about the vaccination rollout and what it means for staff. They’ve been very proactive about supporting everyone to get the vaccine.”
Multiple online meetings held over the past fortnight allowed Customs staff to write in questions for senior management, which were either answered then or put up on the intranet later.
Mike has noticed people become more confident about the vaccine when they feel listened to.
“Conversations on the shop floor are always really important when it comes to how people think and what they do. We all take safety very seriously,” he says.
Up north in Auckland, Immigration NZ border officer Raimond Donk hasn’t been vaccinated yet but he’s waiting for the call.
Some colleagues were initially reluctant. He had concerns of his own.
“At first I was on the fence, but I’ve decided I will take it and I know other officers have also changed their mind with reflection.
“Working at the border you are more likely to rub shoulders with someone who’s got it. It’s quite simple really, Covid-19 is nasty and the long term effects are not good,” he says.
NO ROOM FOR ERROR
Raimond works both ‘onshore and offshore’ at Auckland Airport. Some days he interacts with passengers, others are spent answering emails or on the phone.
He’s learned over time to treat every passenger as if they’re contagious. There’s no room for error.
“Maybe it can make you appear a bit cold, but as time goes on you take it increasingly seriously. You never know. You can’t let your guard down, all the time,” he says.
When asked whether he’s feeling the pressure from a hard year, Raimond paused before answering.
“It’s a learning experience.”
There are about fifty thousand border and MIQ workers in New Zealand. Most of them are now vaccinated and the rest should be by the end of the month.
The vaccine rollout for our frontline health workers and most at-risk groups – about 417,000 people - began in February and will continue to May. The rest of us will be offered vaccines later in the year.
The PSA has worked with Te Kawa Mataaho, the Public Service Commission, to help shape its ‘Covid-19 Workforce Vaccinations Guidance’. They deal with a range of issues, including potential redeployment of unvaccinated workers away from front line roles.
Our goal is for everyone to be kept safe, without anyone being unfairly disadvantaged in the process.
“Any redeployment process must respect workers’ legal and contractual rights, maintain secure employment, and ensure no loss of pay while arrangements are made,” says PSA national secretary Erin Polaczuk.
“It must also guarantee your right to privacy and protect everyone’s right to be healthy and safe. You shouldn’t be expected to share detailed and private medical information with your employer.”
Erin says there are PSA members in all the government agencies that protect New Zealand from Covid-19.
“We’re proud of your incredible work, and we know you want life to go back to normal as soon as possible.”
“The more of us get vaccinated, the closer we get to making that happen.”