New Zealand Nurses Organisation media release, 13 November 2020
The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) remains greatly concerned at the lack of action by DHBs, the Ministry of Health and MBIE to protect its members working in Government MIQs. The union and professional organisation is now considering strongly encouraging and supporting nurses in MIQs to take action under the Health and Safety and Work Act (HSWA).
NZNO Industrial Services Manager Glenda Alexander said we know we are dealing with a proven highly infectious airborne pathogen that is a serious and significant risk to nurses, other health workers and to the health of all New Zealanders.
“We’ve known the virus is airborne since very early in the year, so it’s alarming that our members working in MIQ still do not have consistent access to N95 masks, or the fit tests that make them effective in preventing airborne transmission.
“The two nurses and defence force staff member who recently tested positive did not have access to N95 masks and this is a clear breach of the HSWA and puts our members and the community at an unacceptable risk. We are now considering using procedures under the HSWA to call a halt to the work all our members are doing if it is not deemed safe.
“That three employees working in MIQs have been infected is a serious harm incident under the HSWA, and it was preventable had PPE been distributed and used correctly – as evidenced from international facilities.
“Unless New Zealand keeps up and uses proven PPE practices there will be many more infections in MIQs and eventually large community outbreaks.”
Ms Alexander said NZNO does not wish for its nurses in MIQs to invoke provisions under the HSWA, but will be forced to do so if there is not immediate action by MBIE, the Ministry of Health, and Defence.
“The biggest risk of outbreaks in the wider population has always been recognised as coming from people returning to the country with the virus. And frankly it’s a no brainer that MIQ staff only using surgical masks, which are not effective against airborne transmission, is the route and source of recent community outbreaks.
“That staff working in these facilities have not been issued with the highest level of protection is a violation of the HSWA. Under the Act our members can tell their employers they refuse to do work they consider unsafe. Trained health and safety representatives can also order work to cease immediately if there are significant safety concerns.
“The COVID-19 Pandemic is a rapidly changing situation and we all need to learn as we respond. This is not happening and we are going to see increased risks to the lives of our people and the wellbeing of our communities as a result. We cannot let this continue.”
Media inquiries: Rob Zorn, NZNO Media and Communications Advisor: 027 431 2617.