The people who work on our border and in managed isolation and quarantine facilities are among those doing it tough as the battle against Covid-19 continues.
Those on the frontline at our airports and ports have spent half a year facing the risk of infection when they go to work.
The PSA represents workers from agencies such as the Customs Service, Aviation Security Service, Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), the Ministry of Health, DHBs and MBIE, many of whom have worked continuously on the Covid-19 response since before lockdown began.
PSA delegate and Health & Safety Rep Logan Fenton, who works for MPI, says the need for constant vigilance at work takes a toll over time.
“Covid-19 has been a reality for border workers since last December. Fatigue is starting to set in which impacts on our wellbeing. Our members are also worried they could potentially harm their loved ones.”
Logan says a massive cultural shift has been required, and it has been encouraging to see members quickly take up Health Ministry advice about the use of protective equipment and behavioural changes.
A rigorous commitment to hygiene, physical distancing and PPE is helping mitigate the risk, but it isn’t hard to imagine how stressful it gets constantly double-checking to avoid a mistake.
It’s important that any article about these workers recognises the exemplary job they’ve done.
Following the tremendous success of lockdown, New Zealand went 102 days without a single recorded case. Very few countries have rivalled that achievement. It was only possible because our borders were kept safe by dedicated, skilled workers.
In recent times, politicians and commentators have focused intense attention on the border, and managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) systems.
It’s reasonable and healthy for the public service to be scrutinised, but at times this has strayed into irresponsible scaremongering, heaping more pressure on an already stressed workforce.
The best measure of any system, or perhaps more accurately of the people who constitute that system, is how effectively and promptly it responds and improves as needed when mistakes are identified.
In recent weeks there has been enormous effort put in by border and MIQ staff to ensure everyone is being tested for Covid-19.
Contrary to some claims, staff were not unwilling to do this, and once agencies and employers came to a consensus about how to make this happen, it did.
The PSA has publicly supported mandatory and regular testing for border and MIQ agencies, stressing this point in our discussions with both members and employers.
Regular meetings are taking place to assess the pandemic response, bringing together representatives from government, unions and employers.
Many challenges encountered so far relate to the difficulty of coordinating work between agencies with different cultures and systems.
The PSA’s view is that through cooperation these problems can largely be overcome.
A new MIQ service is being formally established in MBIE.
Integration between agencies and workforces will enable them to work more efficiently.
Considering this work could continue for some time, it may ultimately require one dedicated agency to oversee the task. These conversations are, however, far from settled.
Since the first lockdown, the PSA has also advocated for ‘work bubbles’ for essential and at-risk workers. There are promising signs this may be implemented soon in key workplaces.
Alongside this there is likely to be a growing need for mental health support.
MPI delegate Logan Fenton says nobody should hesitate to seek help where required.
“I worry the essential worker mindset kicks in sometimes and people think they’re letting the team down if they take leave. We need to remember we can only do our best work if we look after ourselves, and employers should support that.”
Progress is being made. The government’s announcement it will replace private security guards in MIQ facilities with a directly employed government security service is worth celebrating.
It shifts us further away from the discredited culture of outsourcing, and will ensure greater accountability and higher performance standards.
There have been meetings at Auckland Airport, for example, bringing delegates together to discuss how we can work safely and effectively. The PSA has been assured its representatives will be included in future forums.
By advocating for a more integrated approach at a national level, while striving to make this a reality in workplaces, our members can influence change where it’s needed.
Until very recently, New Zealand did not have a quarantine service. We have built one from the ground up.
Despite the great challenges brought by Covid-19, we can be proud of the achievements of our workers who are continuing to do their best to keep us safe at the border.
IT TAKES A TEAM TO BEAT C-19
You can also show some appreciation for our members on the Covid Frontline.
To use our ‘It Takes a Team to Beat C-19’ Facebook Frame go to www.facebook.com/profilepicframes and search for ‘NZPSA Supporting Frontline Workers’.
To write a message of support on our virtual notice board go to www.padlet.com/NZPSA/SupportFrontlineWorkers and click anywhere on the screen.
PSA Pasefika union members have been voicing their support for the Pasefika community during the latest Covid outbreak.