Air New Zealand is prepared for a court fight over its plans to dramatically expand the number of staff who would need a Covid-19 jab for their current jobs.
The airline's safety boss says it is not a ''no jab - no job'' policy, but the plan to extend the requirement to thousands of others not covered by government orders makes sense to ensure the wellbeing of the workforce.
Consultation is now under way to expand the requirement for mandatory vaccination to include all workers who interact with customers or their baggage, and those who are required to come into the workplace when public health measures require working from home where possible. This totals about 4100 more staff.
This would be in addition to the 2300 roles already covered by the Government's vaccination order which covers certain groups of employees in airports, cabin crew, pilots, and supply chain who are required to be fully vaccinated by early November. So far about 82 per cent of staff in these roles have got two doses and all must be fully jabbed by November 4.
The airline is consulting with unions and staff over the next two weeks. One union, E tū,
says while vaccination is the pathway out of the pandemic, it is wary of blanket rules and the timing of the airline's move.
If a business (rather than the Government) was requiring vaccinations the union and union members would be rigorously checking and challenging where necessary the scope and detail of the company's risk assessments.
''Protecting workers from illness and death is important, but so is protecting them from unemployment and loss of income,'' said E tū's head of aviation, Savage.
''For some Air New Zealand workers who have personal reasons why they have not yet been vaccinated, or who have not had access to any vaccination because of their age, today's announcement during an alert level 4 lockdown will bring back memories of the last time they faced a loss of employment because of the pandemic,'' he said.
Air New Zealand's chief operational integrity and safety officer David Morgan said consultation would include what other jobs there were for staff who didn't want to be part of the vaccination programme.
''We will be exploring every redeployment opportunity that might be available,'' he said.
The airline was making the move now because the risk the Delta variant now posed had become clear.
''There's no doubt about it the Delta [virus] presents a changed risk profile and we have to think differently about our approach to vaccination. Along with all of the other controls that you put in place - masks and social distancing etc - vaccination does enable us to make sure that people are less likely to get the disease and less likely to transmit it.''
The airline was braced for a legal challenge.
''The airline is taking a position on this because of concerns for the wellbeing of our staff and as a result [it will] undoubtedly be considered a precedent and we appreciate that may well be challenged.''
Morgan said he didn't have figures on how many staff had or may refuse a vaccine for medical or other reasons.
E tū's Savage challenged whether staff could be redeployed easily as there were only 25 vacancies listed on Air NZ's website, and almost all are in highly specialised areas.
The company had hundreds of re-hired redundant employees on fixed-term contracts who they say they cannot make permanent.
''E tū members and the union know that comprehensive vaccination rates are the pathway out of the pandemic. Aviation workers have vaccination rates higher than the general public, but it can be counter-productive if people feel forced into a decision,'' he said.
People need time and support to make a decision that is right for their family and their community.
''Our focus is on making sure the company can fully justify its decisions and ensuring all our members can have access to the information they need. Workers' voices in the workplace is essential to good decision-making,'' said Savage.
''We can't advise our members on vaccination medicine, but we can help them get reliable information from good sources and have their say. Our focus is on employment rights and protecting vulnerable workers facing a possible loss of employment at a time of great upheaval.''
Virgin Australia on Monday announced it was pursuing a similar policy to Air NZ for its entire workforce while Qantas is taking a ''no jab - no job'' line with designated staff. Delta in the US is imposing financial penalties for unvaccinated staff.