Taking care of border workers makes borders safe

Safety concerns prompt call for "work bubble" at NZ borders...

The Public Service Association (PSA) wants all border employers to follow the Aviation Security Service’s example and organise their front line staff into “work bubbles” particularly workers in and around Auckland Airport.

However, progress could be obstructed by a fragmented approach to safety at the airport which does not properly involve elected health and safety reps or staff unions.

Work bubbles can help limit contagion by consistently maintaining separate teams of employees with distinct rosters and responsibilities. The PSA says they will help to reassure border workers, who are under intense pressure following recent events.

Public Service Association National Secretary Erin Polaczuk said: “Our members do amazing work to keep New Zealand safe, but many are stressed and exhausted. Some worry they can’t safely tell people they work somewhere like Auckland Airport, because they might get shunned or stigmatised.

“We want to bring all airport employers, workers and their unions together and design consistent safety policies which work for everyone. Unfortunately, right now not everyone on the border is talking to each other or singing from the same song sheet.”

PSA members work for border agencies such as the Customs Service, the Aviation Security Service and the Ministry for Primary Industries, and the union is concerned to see a division emerging in the way New Zealand’s pandemic response is organised.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment oversees New Zealand’s managed isolation programme, and the department has signed a Worker Participation Agreement with six unions representing thousands of staff in and around the hotels.

Regular meetings take place which bring together worker safety reps, employers, government officials and health experts to share information, relay concerns and develop a united approach.

It works well in the hotels, but no such agreement exists for the airports. Things are more fragmented, with different safety policies for different workforces – even when everyone works on property owned by the same company.

Ms Polaczuk said: “The government agencies our members work for have mostly supported staff well during Covid, but the problem is there’s no combined health and safety forum at the airport. If each employer does their own thing, it leads to mixed messages, poor communication and inconsistent practice.

“Auckland Airport are primarily responsible for those working on their grounds, whether it employs them directly or they work for a third party, so we’d like them to show leadership and work with us to develop a united, consistent approach to health and safety.”

The PSA urges all New Zealanders to show border workers they are appreciated at this time, and to stamp out any discrimination or stigma they may face.

“Alongside the vaccine, the best defence against Covid-19 is community solidarity and the professionalism and dedication of our border workforce,” says Ms Polaczuk.

“We beat back Covid-19 before by sticking together and having each other’s backs. If we keep that up, we’ll beat it again.”

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