Unions address employee issues around COVID-19


Employers have a responsibility under the Health and Safety Act to provide a safe workplace. However, unions have been advised that health professionals should not be at risk of contracting COVID-19 at work if clinical protocols are followed, appropriate PPE is worn where this is clinically indicated, and approved infection control procedures are practiced – hand washing, social distance, cough etiquette.

We know from the Chinese experience that fatigue amongst those health professionals dealing directly with infected patients was a significant risk factor and we have advised the DHBs that they have a responsibility to ensure this does not happen here.

We also know that many of the health professionals in Wuhan who were dealing with an emergency situation in hospitals that were swamped, continued working when they had symptoms. That is why DHBs and other health sector providers need to take a public health approach to leave for their employees who have been or may have been exposed to COVID-19.

Jill has represented MERAS with other National BAG (bipartite action group) unions working on national guidelines for DHBs around leave in response to COVID-19. Click here for the national DHB guidelines.

As a result of the unions’ input, the DHBs have now confirmed that staff members who are asked by their DHB to stay home or self-isolate, will be entitled to special leave, i.e. this will not be charged against leave entitlements such as annual leave or sick leave.

Staff members who need to care for dependents who are otherwise well (e.g. schools are closed) will have to use ‘available leave’ such as annual Leave, alternative days, shift leave, etc. However, if the dependent becomes sick with symptoms of COVID-19 and you need to care for them, this is sick leave.  If you are well but asked to self-isolate as a result, this will be special paid leave and not be charged against leave entitlements.

Provisions in the various Collective Agreements will be applied on a case-by-case basis where staff run out of sick leave, including annual leave paid in advance. Requirements for medical certificates will be waived to protect unnecessary risks to community health workers.

Working from home will be encouraged where possible and paid as normal time if it occurs.

The Ministry of Health is asking people with symptoms of fever, cough or shortness of breath who have visited countries or areas of concern (these are being frequently updated on the MoH website), or who have been in close contact with someone confirmed as having COVID-19, to phone Healthline’s dedicated COVID-19 number 0800 358 5453.

Click here for the latest information on the Ministry of Health website: https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/covid-19-novel-coronavirus

There is also a dedicated COVID-19 website set up by the Government: https://covid19.govt.nz