Teachers' union will follow COVID-19 vaccine mandate as long as teachers are given other options, not fired

The union representing teachers says it will follow a COVID-19 vaccine mandate but only if it allows other options for teachers who can't or won't get the jab. 

On Thursday, Newshub revealed the Government is planning to require every single teacher at every level, and all support staff who work with children, to be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The mandate is being taken to Cabinet on Monday by COVID-19 Response and Education Minister Chris Hipkins. 

And it has support from the Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft who wants the mandate to go further - calling for double vaccination for anyone who works with children.

New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) director of campaigns Stephanie Mills told The AM Show they will support a mandate for teachers, but only if they are given the option to be redeployed and a fair process is followed. 

"As a union we have followed public health advice all the way through this epidemic. It's served the country well and it's served our members well so far, so we will follow public health mandates but we will also balance that with upholding rights and due process and fair process for any members who can't or won't get vaccinated," Mills said on Friday. 

"Anybody working in education has the right to go through a process which would consider them working not directly on the frontline which, of course, people in education do - they are not all in classrooms every day. 

"In terms of early childhood though… When we think about the relationship early childhood teachers have with children, apart from parents and immediate whanau, those teachers are the ones that  spend the most time with your child so I think they will have safety and the health and wellbeing of the children at the top of their minds."

Mills said while there aren't specific figures for how many teachers are vaccinated, given teachers tend to be older women, she suspects many already are. 

"I think because we work with children most teachers know that the biggest path of transmission of the virus is from adult to children. So we definitely encourage people to get vaccinated because that's the best way to protect children and if you care about the children you work with, I think most teachers are going to be very seriously considering vaccination if they haven't already."

Mills conceded moving teachers from the frontlines would put pressure on the education sector. 

That's a concern shared by early childhood public health researcher Mike Bedford who told Newshub a vaccine mandate could crash the teacher-starved sector.

"If you force vaccinations on early childhood teachers, you're just going to tip the sector over the edge," Bedford said on Thursday.