Nine Customs border workers fired for refusing jab

A new Covid-19 public health order means all government border workers and staff at managed isolation facilities must be vaccinated. Photo: Scott Hammond/Stuff.

In what could be a sign of things to come, nine Customs workers, including four at a single provincial port, have been fired for refusing the Covid-19 vaccine.


One of the maritime border workers said she was devastated to be sacked and frustrated by what she says was a lack of consultation by the agency.


She asked not to be named because she feared public criticism for her decision not to vaccinate.

Customs is defending its communication with the workers and says it can't offer redundancy payments, as the sacked staff are calling for, because their roles are not being disestablished.


Their contracts were terminated after Customs was unable to find a suitable alternative role for the workers.


Auckland employment lawyer Catherine Stewart says employers of workers required to be vaccinated were likely to be able to substantively justify dismissing an unvaccinated employee.


They would point to the Covid-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order, and explain they are unable to lawfully continue with an unvaccinated person in the role.


“However, substantive justification is only one aspect of a justified dismissal and the employer would also need to follow a robust process prior to carrying out any dismissal,” says Catherine.


“This means that they should consult with staff and, if a worker is reluctant to be vaccinated, ascertain the reasons for this and work with them to try to persuade them effectively to be vaccinated.


“If the worker is still unwilling to be vaccinated then the employer should consider alternatives and try to redeploy the worker into a role that does not require vaccination, in order to save the worker’s employment.”

A new Covid-19 public health order means all government border workers and staff at managed isolation facilities must be vaccinated. Photo: Rosa Woods.


She agreed with Customs’ view that redundancy provisions in employment agreements would not come into play where a worker is dismissed because they are not vaccinated.


“It is important to remember that a person cannot be vaccinated against their will; an employee is entitled to refuse to be vaccinated. However, the consequence of this could be the loss of their job.”


The firings came on the eve of the Covid-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021 going into force.


It requires all workers in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities, and those who work for Government agencies at the border, to be vaccinated.


The worker had a role until Friday at a provincial port monitoring international ships, making sure stevedores and their crew took appropriate Covid precautions, including protective gear.


“We took it seriously, it’s really important. If we weren't there, people got lax.”


The woman says she never came into contact with international crew and believes there was insufficient risk to justify her being required to vaccinate.


She is not a union member and had a lawyer write to Customs in December asking management to keep her informed if there was to be any changes to their role.


However, she says she found out via the media in March that workers like her, who refuse to get vaccinated, could be barred from frontline roles.


The woman would not disclose her rationale for not getting the vaccine.


“I don't ... have to explain why I don’t want to be vaccinated, it's my choice under the Bill of Rights.”

Matters came to a head at a meeting on Thursday.


Management says the nature of her position meant it was not possible to modify her role to reduce her exposure to Covid-19, according to a letter sent the following day terminating her employment.


“We also advised you that Customs has been searching for internal redeployment opportunities for you, none were available in the [...] region, but Customs is looking for external redeployment opportunities through the Public Services Commission's Workforce Mobility Hub,” the letter says.


The woman is supported by Christchurch employment law advocate Ashleigh Fechney.


Christchurch Employment law advocate Ashleigh Fechney is helping several workers fired after refusing to get vaccinated.  Photo: Alden Williams/Stuff.


Fechney said at the meeting Customs was in effect going through a redundancy process, that there was insufficient health and safety risk or legal basis to require mandatory vaccination for her position, and that Customs had not followed a fair process.


The agency disagreed.


"The roles are ongoing and we will recruit into them,” the letter said. “Given the matters we discussed at the meeting, including the reasons why Customs requires your position to be performed by a vaccinated person, the Government's requirement that non-vaccinated border workers stop working in those positions by May 1, and the absence of suitable redeployment opportunities, we advised that Customs had decided to terminate your employment as proposed.


“Please treat this letter as formal notice of termination of your employment in accordance with Part 9 of your Employment Agreement.”


She was not required to work out her notice and will be paid for those four weeks as a lump sum in her final pay.


The woman says she was frustrated and disappointed.


“I just feel undervalued. It’s been very, very unpleasant, very unprofessional, and it’s devastating.”

Fechney, who is advocating for several other Customs workers in a similar situation, says the Government should be paying the sacked workers compassionate compensation.


“If you're going to terminate, at least do it in a redundancy setting,” says Fechney. “They gave up their own health and safety to protect the borders.”


The worker was also given the option of remaining employed for four weeks while Customs searched for suitable jobs at other government agencies, such as Corrections.


“None of my clients were interested in that,” says Fechney. “There's a big difference between working in Corrections and working in Customs.”


Fechney says her clients were also irked that their certificates of service said they had resigned from their roles.


“It makes it feel like it is their choice to leave, but it’s not their choice.”


Customs people and capability deputy chief executive Jacinda Funnell says they would change the certificates of service if asked.


She confirmed nine Customs employees, including the four at the provincial port, had their contracts terminated because they were not vaccinated.


Over 95 per cent of Customs staff have had their first dose and more than 85 per cent the second dose, she says.


“We’ve been able to redeploy most of the people who haven’t been vaccinated," says Funnell. “There was just a very small number who we simply weren't able to find redeployment options within Customs for. We did attempt to work with them to find them roles in other organisations.”


If they made the workers redundant they would be legally unable to replace them, she says.

Funnell rejected comments by Fechney and the workers that communication and consultation was lacking.


“I think that we have put a lot of effort into consulting with people. Senior managers have travelled to all of these ports to talk to staff, we have run many, many sessions online and in person with staff, they’ve had opportunities to talk to their managers.”

George Block/Stuff

More on SunLive...
You must be logged in to make a comment. Login Now


Posted on 06-05-2021 09:30 | By

You’re welcome. You are absolutely correct. I have no personal fear of a cold virus and could easily not bother with a jab but unfortunately it is the only way this stupid Government will let go of it’s zero Covid neurosis, though I fear even then, maybe not. So, in keeping with my service, I will take one for the “team”.

@ Slim Shady

Posted on 05-05-2021 15:39 | By

Isn’t this just a simple cold virus that too much fuss is being made about . . . Hey and to both you and morepork - THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE.


Posted on 05-05-2021 08:06 | By

Well said and as a fellow Vietnam vet I enjoyed the reminiscing. The Government should have used your examples in their advertisement piece for vaccination. They should show the terrible effects of diseases like we have mentioned. Instead they produce a childish advert with people acting like clowns hoping numbskulls will be persuaded. It’s more like a stupid Air NZ safety advert. Big fail.

Vaccination and inoculation.

Posted on 04-05-2021 14:12 | By morepork

Many years ago, as a Kiwi conscript who was being trained for Viet Nam, I required vaccination. We were soldiers; there was NO right of protest (and none of us would have protested anyway...). Over a period of about 4 days we each received around 30 different inoculations and vaccinations. Smallpox, typhoid, Blackwater fever, Yellow fever, and dozens of others you have never heard of ... Some of these were administered by a gun that fired multiple needles... I remember my arm swelling up and being on "light duties" for a few days, along with many of my colleagues. BUT, it never did me any long term harm and my immune system has been, and is, very effective. Don’t believe conspiracy theories; we need Covid vaccines and it is right to take them. (However, we cannot and should not, ENFORCE ANY treatment regimen on ANYONE.)

Anti vaxxers

Posted on 04-05-2021 11:33 | By

Well almost 15% of the entire world has already had the Covid vaccine so I’m not sure how big people want the sample to be! And worrying about long term effects (which is unfounded) is sheer stupidity. Vaccines are made because diseases are deadly. There is a need to be urgent and not wait 10 years to see what happens to a trial recipient. Goodness me, some people would rather have polio and smallpox back. Just get the damn thing.

2 Minds

Posted on 03-05-2021 15:35 | By

Can’t say I’m sure if I’d accept this jab yet. Still Guinea Pig days - early days. Surely this is a change to their employment contracts that would need to be negotiated? Do St John’s Ambulance drivers HAVE to get jabs for all the contagious diseases etc or lose their jobs . . . ? I’m in 2 minds whether this is a fair loss of job or not. How do you make a fully informed decision when the world hasn’t got a fully informed answer yet? There’s debate for both sides.

Unfortunately if the world

Posted on 03-05-2021 11:06 | By earlybird

wants to control the spread of covid, this course of action will become more common. It is, of course, your choice to get vaccinated or not, but if you don’t there may be consequences. In a few years time when we have ’herd immunity’ it won’t matter quite so much, but we’re still in the early days and it does matter.

Free Loaders

Posted on 03-05-2021 08:21 | By waiknot

Those anti-vax people are free loaders. Put them in India I’m sure they would be first in the cue

Justice for Employees

Posted on 03-05-2021 01:36 | By

If employers have the right to terminate an employee for not getting the injection( it is wrongly referred to here as a vaccination) then surely employees must be entitled to compensation if they are injured as a result of taking the medical experiment that this is!. To date the Vaccine Events Reporting System (WHO) is reporting that over 3000 people have died from the vaccine and many thousands seriously injured. This is 1% of cases according to studies. How is this situation considered fair and just?


Posted on 02-05-2021 20:55 | By

This not only goes the neurenberg code that states that no person can be forced or coerced against their free will into taking a medicine or a medical procedure against their free will and will not be penalised for doing so. What has happened is illegal and downright disgusting. Those that think this is ok, seriously need to take a good look at themselves

Interesting Logic??

Posted on 02-05-2021 20:20 | By The vZs

Dear Bob Landy and those of similar ilk, You say, "It’s my right to be protected from people who refuse a vaccine...". How exactly are the unvaccinated putting you at-risk? A similar logic to yours would be that the cyclists who don’t wear a helmet put helmet-wearing cyclists at risk of injury. Just how does that work? I would have suspected if the vaccine is as effective as reported that the vaccinated populace are at little to no risk. Maybe I might be missing something so feel free to clarify. You may, as some of you already have, call her foolish but I suspect she has strong convictions for the decision she has made, however mis-guided you presume her to be. Ask yourself, how informed am I about the vaccine before you ’cast the first stone’.


Posted on 02-05-2021 19:16 | By Told you

Those that refuse to be vaccinated are putting others at risk as well as themselves, it’s only right they should lose their jobs by not complying with the rules.


Posted on 02-05-2021 15:47 | By dumbkof2

so you can’t be forced to have the jab but if you don’t have it you will be sacked. if thats not forcing you to have it i don’t know what is

Extend This Rule

Posted on 02-05-2021 15:01 | By

I look forward to this being extended to all workplaces and public places as the vaccine is rolled out. It’s my right to be protected from people who refuse a vaccine without very good cause.


Posted on 02-05-2021 13:36 | By

Gary; CEO 4cminews Group Better to be alive and well than employed DNA, GMO, mutated or lifetime injured or worse DEAD!!! and theres a sea of humans who have suffered these outcomes, why in the hell would any employer be expecting or demanding this its a Criminal Act these Nine Customs border workers need to seek a class action against their ex employer DONT LAY DOWN GET UP PUSHBACK FIGHT FOR YOUR HUMAN RIGHTS FOR GOD SAKE PEOPLE; STOP SUCKING ON THE TIT OF EASY STREET AND COMFORTABLITY, ENDURE HARDSHIPS FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT ITS YOUR CHILDRENS FUTURE THATS AT STAKE

Two way street

Posted on 02-05-2021 13:20 | By

Its fine to say you are going to get fired for not getting the jab Then if you do get it and have medical issues, is Customs going to step up and take care of you and your family with adequate compensation. As current legislation says No.


Posted on 02-05-2021 12:44 | By morepork

I have growing sympathy for your position on all of this, Slim. There is a "softly, softly" approach by Government and the time for it is long over. I believe they are doing the best they can but I agree, it is not really good enough. On the whole their policies have been effective and we should all be thankful that we can go about our lives with a degree of normalcy that the rest of the world can only dream of. We are "lucky" in that we have a small population, that is, for the most part well educated and able to make good choices. The "lunatic fringe" is still there, but the majority of people recognize them for what they are. In the case in point it would be completely wrong to allow the woman to be exempt from vaccination. Vacillation is not an option.

@Bruce B.

Posted on 02-05-2021 12:34 | By morepork

Unfortunately, due to the nature of Social Media and the spread of disinformation, her view of the vaccine is different from yours. People DO have a right not to be vaccinated; we are not yet a police state. But the sad thing is that, in this instance she is wrong and it cost her her job. It’s a simple choice: if the job requires you to be vaccinated then get vaccinated or get another job. We would hope that the Employer has done everything they can to re-locate her and has made sure that properly sourced material and figures are available to help her (and everyone else) evaluate the safety of the vaccine. It appears that was done, so there is nothing more to be said. Her choice and she made it. The world does not owe any of us a living.


Posted on 02-05-2021 11:28 | By

You appear not to realize the jail threats are empty gestures made purely for votes from foot stamping buffoons. Nobody will be jailed in either Oz or NZ for trying to get home. It’s just claptrap to distract fools from government incompetence and a woeful vaccine program. You fell for it.

@the professor

Posted on 02-05-2021 10:56 | By

You can repeatedly drive drunk and recklessly and kill someone on the road and never see a jail. You could beat someone to death and do less time. I bet you’ve done worse crimes than these people.

Yes it a resignation

Posted on 02-05-2021 10:33 | By Kancho

Seems to me the company had no choice. Refusing a vaccination had known consequences so by refusing a vaccination then it’s tantamount to resigning as the company has no jobs in other areas. Also not redundant as the position they occupy isn’t being disestablished . I think resigning is better on the record than being dismissed. Yes they had a choice so talking about their perseived treatment and their rights is hollow as it’s self inflicted. They chose their concept of their health above having a job so suffer the consequences. Guess it’s on to the dole queues

Suck it up.

Posted on 02-05-2021 09:38 | By

You were all warned so no sympathy from me. We all have to play a part in protecting each other. I’m pleased the Government and Agency have followed through on their last! Just need to follow through on the rest now, and jail those who breach the bubble rules.

No jab no job

Posted on 02-05-2021 09:38 | By

What is wrong with some people why would you want to work on the front line and not have the jab that protects you and helps protect family and others, you got to have rocks in your head.