Government urged to expand rapid testing to all workers

Employers say having a list of critical workers is 'discriminatory'

Government urged to expand rapid testing to all workers

The Auckland Business Chamber is calling on the government to provide all workers access to Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) in order to keep businesses running amid the spread of the Omicron variant in New Zealand. This comes as the government said that only critical members of the workforce will only have access to RATs during the second and third phase of its Omicron response, as part of its test-to-return scheme.

"This is not a lockdown so instead of Government compiling a list of which sectors and workers they deem to meet their definition of critical to get access to Rapid Antigen return to work tests, turn it round. RATs should be available to every worker so they can do just that – work – and keep families, livelihoods and the economy moving," said Michael Barnett, the chamber's chief executive.

According to Barnett, having a list of critical workers is "discriminatory, confusing, divisive, and disruptive" at a time when businesses and the government should be working together to keep establishments open.

"My workers are essential too and need to work as do Government employees already on the critical workers list. Help us do that to help the country," added Barnett.

Read more: Auckland Business Chamber slams 'unfairness' between big firms, SMEs

HR to identify, submit critical workers

The Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment has launched an online tool to help employers identify if their organisation or workers are critical.

"It is unlikely that, even if your business is part of a critical sector, all of your workers will be critical for the ongoing maintenance of infrastructure and supply chains," said the ministry in a statement.

According to the agency, government offices will begin identifying specific organisations with critical workers to ask them for a list of critical workers from their company.

"If your business is not contacted and you have critical workers, you will be able to register your workers through an online portal that will be launched on business.govt.nz in February," the ministry advised employers.

It also urged businesses that will implement the test-to-return scheme to enforce the following protocols:

  • Daily symptom checks, and a daily negative RAT result that is required prior to the worker starting work for the day.
  • Strict use of a medical mask, donned by the worker before entry to the workplace and changed as needed during the day
  • Strict compliance with any infection prevention and control protocols at work.
  • When the worker's mask is removed (e.g. for eating and drinking) physical distancing must be maintained – the worker should eat alone in a well-ventilated space where possible.
  • The worker should travel alone to and from and around work or between jobs, where possible.
  • Ensure good ventilation when in small spaces and masks must be worn by everyone present.
  • If symptoms develop at any stage, the worker will follow the public advice for close contacts with symptoms.

New Zealand is still at the first step of its three-phase Omicron response, where the government is still trying to stamp out cases of the virus.

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