Sacked New Zealand border staff mounts legal challenge to dismissal

A border worker who was dismissed for refusing to get the COVID-19 jab has brought her case to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA).
By: | June 22, 2021

This legal case is the first of its kind in the country. However, the ERA has declined her application to have her case heard in a higher court.  

On June 14, the ERA decision, made in Christchurch, said the woman was a temporary port worker who was sacked on May 31 as she had chosen not to get vaccinated. 

She claims her employer was unreasonable to insist that she should be vaccinated for her role. 

The woman’s job scope included assisting with temporary additional staffing required to manage and reduce the risk of COVID-19 entering New Zealand through ports, and to meet additional requirements of the COVID-19 public health response maritime border order. 

The government had in April mandated all front-line workers to be vaccinated by April 30, or be moved to low-risk roles or face termination of employment. 

The woman’s employer met with her on April 29, but the woman contested the safety audit that said for her to remain in her role, she must be vaccinated. The next day, her employment was terminated in compliance with the public health order effective that day.  

The woman’s lawyer, Ashleigh Fechney, said important questions arose from her client’s dismissal such as: Can an employer change an employee’s terms and conditions to include mandatory vaccination? 

READ: New Zealand increases sick leave from five to 10 days

The employer’s legal representative Hamish Kynaston said the core issues were whether it “unjustifiably dismissed or disadvantaged the applicants, or breached its employment agreements with them, and, if so, what remedies it should award”. 

Details of the case are subject to a gag order due to “likely intense public interest” and that the applicant was seeking re-employment, according to Stuff.