26 November 2021

Southland businesses: ‘We have no clue what’s going to happen’

Some Southland businesses are struggling how they will implement the traffic light system as information about it trickles in from the Government.

On December 3 vaccine passes to prove people are fully vaccinated will become mandatory for many businesses when New Zealand transitions to the traffic light system.

Main Street Café owner Jerin Nadar said many customers were approaching staff about how vaccine passes would work and if they would still be able to visit the business unvaccinated, but he did not have answers.

“We don’t have any clear directions for hospitality [to decide] … we have no clue what’s going to happen,” he said.

On Tuesday, Workplace Relations and Safety minister Michael Wood announced businesses could be fined $15000 for not enforcing vaccine passes correctly.

The Batch Café co-owner Kate French was concerned businesses had been told they were not required to check photo ID alongside vaccine passes at the door, which would be easier, but more stressful.

However, given potential fines would fall on the owners if unvaccinated people were at the business it was still unsure how it would deal with enforcing the order.

Other concerns raised were that the hospitality industry is already struggling and how the system would be enforced.

Hospitality New Zealand Southland president Graham Hawkes, who owns the Paddington Arms, said “we need all the customers we can get. The hospitality industry is absolutely on its knees.

“And it now seems to be signalled out as an industry that can cope with all this, which is absolute rubbish.”

Those in the industry were concerned about who young and vulnerable staff would be able to call for help if customers became aggressive about their vaccination status, he said.

“The police are far to busy doing what police do. What are you gonna do? Ring the police and wait for half an hour for someone to come and help us?,” he said.

The Government has announced extra funding for WorkSafe to be able to police enforcement of the protocol, but details remain vague as to how this will occur.

A WorkSafe spokesperson said that businesses and organisations had the best idea of how to manage patrons coming through their venues.

“As with any workplace requirement it is a high trust model, however, based on experience with the alert level framework, businesses can expect strong feedback from their customers and competitors if they do not follow the rules,” the spokesperson said.

WorkSafe did not answer questions about if staff were currently located in Southland, stating the inspectorate was able to work throughout the country without necessarily being based in the region where the concern occurred.

Les Sheikh Hair Design owner Richelle Holland said implementing the passes would have been easier if they had been mandated further across the board into retail, to add a sense of normalcy to those using the system.

She was running appointments late on Wednesday to rush unvaccinated customers through before the system was enforced.

Kaos hair salon co-owner Felicity Diack was concerned about losing paying customers at the busiest time of year after a tough few months under Covid-19 restrictions.

Primal Performance Gym owner Tony McMahon said the only issue for his business was figuring out which traffic light Southland would be moving into December 3.

“I’m assuming we’ll be orange … so under the orange system, which is my assumption, then I cannot open my gym unless I mandate the vaccines, so that to me is straightforward … Takes the onus off me, doesn’t make it personal, makes it Government issue.”

Southland Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Sheree Carey said whilst the fast implementation had been a “headache”, most businesses were glad they’d received some level of guidance.

“Everybody has got broad advice, and for the anomalies that don’t, specific sector advice will be coming next week,” she said.

Lawyers had been “flat out” giving employment advice around vaccinations, she said.

The Ministry of Health did not respond to questions by deadline.

Published by Stuff.co.nz – 25 November 2021