This winter flu rates have reached epidemic levels across New Zealand and over the last few months the DHBs have been approaching all of you to get vaccinated. Most of you will now be aware that Waikato DHB has chosen to enforce mandatory mask wearing amongst its non-vaccinated staff. A handful of employees have been suspended and one has been dismissed for failing to comply with these requirements. What follows below is a brief run-down of the situation which includes some insight into the role of the NZMLWU (past and present) in regards to Waikato DHB’s mandatory mask wearing policy.
The issue of vaccinations and the flu vaccination in particular has been on our agenda over the past few months, as it has been for our sector. In 2015, despite improved uptake of the flu vaccination amongst DHB employees, one DHB (Waikato) has continued to adopt what is perceived to be a punitive approach to non-vaccinated staff, insisting that they wear masks when in direct patient contact or otherwise risk suspension and disciplinary procedures.
ROLE OF NZMLWU
We felt at this time it might be appropriate to discuss the role of the Union in this matter. Amongst our membership we have the full spectrum from those passionately in favour of vaccinations, to those equally against. So should NZMLWU even have a view and if so on what basis?
We first became involved in this matter over a year ago as a result of one DHB (not Waikato) circulating a draft vaccination policy, which included the intention to seriously disadvantage employee’s employment if they were not vaccinated. This “disadvantage” was not simply wearing a mask, but could have also resulted in redeployment and possibly the dismissal of an employee who refused vaccination.
This policy had been motivated by a passionate belief in the role of vaccinations to protect patients; children from whooping cough and the like. Whilst their motivation wasn’t questioned, the failure to consider wider implications, including individual’s rights fell well short of the mark. We were not too happy about that approach, which lead to both an “oh no you don’t” but also some further investigation of the issues.
RIGHT NOT TO BE VACCINATED
So starting with the right not to be vaccinated – we all have that right. Being injected against our will is assault, pure and simple. In addition, when in receipt of healthcare, everyone is covered by the HDC Code of (patient) Rights. This provides for the right to informed consent and the right to say “no”. It also provides for the right to be treated with respect. Given one role of a union is the legal protection of member’s rights, enforcing the right not to be vaccinated goes without question.
The issue of vaccination largely comes down to an individual view (I do or I do not wish to be vaccinated because I…) or a collective one. On the latter, there is both a public health good derived from vaccinations and an employment one. The former relates to the reduced spread of disease and therefore harm, especially amongst those in our communities who are most vulnerable, and the latter, lack of staff to treat the sick due to staff themselves being sick. And yes, for the employer less sick days resulting in reduced cost is attractive.
Evidence confirms that whilst not a perfect remedy, vaccination is the best mechanism we have to prevent the spread of disease and the human toll that disease represents. Herd immunity, where vaccination rates are high enough to stem the spread of disease and therefore protect a community, is the goal. The drop in vaccination rates in Canterbury and outbreak of measles is a perfect example. Measles is a serious and life threatening disease, with that outbreak resulting in dozens of young people being admitted to ICU with encephalitis and the like.
But back to the flu… the vaccine for which is not 100% effective. Each year the vaccine must be reconstituted to capture the new strains of flu that emerge. This nasty little beast genetically morphs from year to year, hence its success as an organism! As impressive as this may be, let’s not forget, it also kills. Regardless of your view on vaccination, this virus is not the common cold we can all expect to suffer most years. It is a serious and life threatening virus that has caused millions to die.
PRIVATE LAB UPDATE
- NZMLWU and SCL have met for bargaining during the month of July. Parties agree to seek a one-year term; SCL has offered 1% and the union claim is 2%. Service Holiday and redundancy notice are outstanding issues.
- Aotea Pathology A new collective agreement has been ratified until the 31st of October 2015 when Wellington SCL takes over the new combined laboratory. There is to be a 1% increase from 1 June 2015.
- Lab Services Rotorua A working party on merit progression was established at the last bargaining meeting. A proposal is to be developed to go to next bargaining in early 2016.
- Pathlab Whakatane Collective is due for renewal, bargaining dates are set for mid-August.
- TLAB Collective is also due for renewal. NZMLWU has initiated for bargaining and we are awaiting suitable dates.
- Northland Pathology have offered 1.75% for the first year and 1.25% for the second year plus improvements in the assistant and scientists scales. Negotiations are continuing.