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Get vaccinated and protect yourselves, our industry and New Zealand’s economy

19 October 2021

New Zealand is moving to living with Covid.  For some, that is an uncomfortable and preoccupying thought, from many perspectives. 

What if we or a member of our family got sick with Covid?  Would we be OK if we were vaccinated? 

What if one of my employees tests positive for Covid in the middle of the busy but short, summer harvest?  What would happen?  Would we have to close for several weeks, leaving the produce unharvested, even if our workforce was fully vaccinated and we were still operating in bubbles? 

The personal health concerns and questions are vexing.  As an industry, we are focusing on advocating for the Government to provide direction around vaccination rates and how our industry would operate, should there be an outbreak of Covid in an operation like a packhouse. 

As an industry, we are fully supportive of the call for everyone to get vaccinated.  Several of our major employers are working with the various District Health Boards and other vaccination providers to make it as easy as possible for the horticulture workforce to get vaccinated.  This approach is proving successful, with some employers reporting double vaccination rates as high as 95%. 

But can horticulture employers demand that all their employees are vaccinated?  The Government needs urgently to step up and provide definitive guidance in this critical area, to protect the interests of all involved.  The Government has just mandated vaccinations in the Early Childhood Education and school sectors.  It must provide similar guidance to industries like ours immediately. 

But perhaps the even harder questions to answer are around how an outbreak of Covid in a horticulture business would be managed.  Would the entire business be shut down or, if the workforce was fully vaccinated, following best practice around Covid and all that was documented, would the business be allowed to carry on and what does that look like? 

Knowing this ahead of New Zealand moving to “Living with Covid” is pivotal to decision making in our industry, and most other industries across New Zealand. 

People across our country are fatigued and looking for clear Government direction.  As I’ve said in recent columns, the new normal is now and the Government must step into the commerce space and understand the economy is at risk, the longer we lurk in the grey zone. 

Sure, the latest reports on the New Zealand economy are positive but let’s just look around us.  Britain is in turmoil with widely publicised shortages of fuel and food, to say nothing of labour and essential raw materials.  Freight costs to and from New Zealand are at cripplingly high levels, congestion and bottlenecks offshore are significant, and will put pressure on imports and exports for some time to come. 

The world is at a crossroads, to say nothing of New Zealand and our industry.  What we need to do now is take steps to control what we can manage with good leadership and planning.  How businesses should operate in the new environment is something we can develop and agree to ahead of time.  This is so businesses can have the confidence to plan and invest so New Zealand’s economy can remain as healthy as possible, as well as the New Zealand public. 

Government!  Can you hear us?  New Zealand business needs direction and clarity immediately.

 

Ngā mihi nui

Nadine Tunley
HortNZ Chief Executive