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Epidemic Requires Consideration Of Pay

Wednesday 21 June 2006

Epidemic Requires Consideration Of Pay And Conditions

“NUPE’s reservations about the silence of the Epidemic Preparedness Bill in respect to employment rights and obligations were outlined this morning to Parliament’s Government Administration Select Committee,” said John Kerr, Organiser with the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) today.

“When an epidemic hits New Zealand, the front line will be health workers like nurses, information services staff, mortuary technicians, cleaners, medical records staff, and also workers in essential industries like electricity, water, sewage, and the police,” said John Kerr. “Yet the only provision relating to employment rights of employees and employers is one giving employers the ability to place employees on leave without giving 14 days notice once an epidemic notice has been declared.”

“The Health and Safety in Employment Act has a number of provisions relevant to the outbreak of an epidemic, among them the duty of an employer to eliminate or minimise a hazard and the right of an employee to refuse to enter a dangerous work area,” said John Kerr. “Employers would be liable for any harm caused to employees through contracting the epidemic at work while employees have the ability to refuse to work if, due to the epidemic, they felt that their safety would be compromised.”

“Further the Bill provides no appropriate compensation for workers who are forced to work where such work may bring them into contact with a virus,” said John Kerr.

John Kerr said that NUPE proposed that an employee required to work whilst an epidemic notice was in force, be paid for each day as if it was a public holiday.

“It is likely that most businesses would temporarily shut down during such an epidemic and the T1½ and day in lieu required under the Act for working a public holiday would not be paid to most employees,” said John Kerr. “It is likely that the State will be affected most by such a provision and is in the best position to meet such short-term increased labour costs.”


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