Ministry of Social Development begins laying off unvaccinated staff

The Department of Social Development has started laying off up to 220 unvaccinated staff despite advice to suspend layoffs.

The Civil Service Commission yesterday told public agencies to stop firing unvaccinated staff given the recent High Court ruling that vaccination warrants for the police and defense force were unlawful

But Lynda, an employee of the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), who did not want her last name used, says she received her dismissal letter today.

Lynda, who was an administrative officer working in the Ashburton and Rangiora areas, told Newstalk ZB’s Andrew Dickens that she said she worked “a bit” from home.

“I had been in the office between lockdown and things but as a medically vulnerable person I worked from home as much as possible.”

Lynda suffers from mucormycosis and multiple allergies, including allergies to certain medications.

She said the reason her contract with MSD was terminated was that she was a “danger to people” because she was not vaccinated.

Lynda, who is not currently working in a lead role, said she mainly deals with on-site contractors. However, she said she had dealt with them remotely in the past.

Melissa Gill, Deputy Managing Director of Organizational Assurance and Communications, confirmed today that final decisions will be made regarding the employment of the 220 unvaccinated employees. However, not all will result in termination.

“The PSC has advised public sector bodies that this decision is a timely reminder that health and safety risk assessments should be reviewed regularly, endorsing the approach we have taken to our policy.

“We have made the decision to proceed after considering advice regarding the recent High Court decision and guidance from the PSC. We have confirmed that our process meets the relevant legal requirements.

As far as she knows, Lynda believes MSD has not reviewed its vaccination policy since late last year, despite advice received yesterday.

“You wonder what’s going on, to be honest, a lot of experience will be lost from the ministry and a lot of competent and kind empathetic people.”

Gill said the department is taking the next steps in implementing its immunization policy.

On January 10, a vaccination mandate was put in place for all staff.

MSD introduced its Covid-19 vaccination policy in mid-December, giving staff three months to get vaccinated or face redundancy. This is an internal policy rather than a government mandate.

“MSD provides essential services to a large number of New Zealanders, many of whom are vulnerable, and any disruption to these services that may result from employees contracting Covid-19 has a direct impact on the well-being of customers. Our customers do not are not required to be vaccinated to enter our sites,” Gills said.

Looking at the track, Lynda said she will have to have an advantage but will be finishing her degree in psychology.

“I would rather public money be spent on my salaries so that I can help the public instead of being someone who is helped by the public.”

On Tuesday last week, the Herald reported that MSD had suspended redundancies while it considered a High Court ruling against Covid-19 vaccine warrants last month.

This week, unvaccinated staffers told the Herald they have now been called into meetings to discuss their future in the ministry.

MSD leadership told them it had heeded advice on the court ruling – which said a vaccination mandate for police and defense force personnel was an unwarranted incursion into their rights – and had confirmed that its vaccine policy was legally valid.

Unvaccinated staff at the Department of Social Development have protested against the blanket vaccination policy which requires staff to get vaccinated even though they can work from home and never come into contact with others.

Gill said the department is constantly reviewing advice from health officials taking into account its health and safety risk assessment around Covid-19, including its impact on its Covid-19 vaccination policy.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has indicated that the government’s mandates for vaccines – which cover health, education, corrections and others – will be scrapped when they are no longer needed.

No deadline has been set, but Ardern said the stricter Covid parameters will be relaxed after Omicron’s peak.

Joel C. Hicks