'Stigmatised' and refused gym memberships: E tū shares Jacinda Ardern's concern for border workers

The union representing some border workers shares the Prime Minister's concern for staff being stigmatised in their communities, with some being refused gym memberships. 

Jacinda Ardern said earlier this week border workers were "being isolated from their usual community groups and activities because it's known that they are in the border workforce", and even their children have been targeted.  

"Some children in school are being bullied and isolated because people know that their families work at the border," she said. 

It came as the Prime Minister came under pressure to introduce mandatory COVID-19 daily saliva testing for border workers, in the wake of the latest community outbreak in Auckland. Saliva testing is currently optional for quarantine staff. 

"Every decision we make to add extra layers of testing and reassurance, we give careful consideration to in terms of our mandated requirements, both in terms of the safety, but also we need to keep people working there," Ardern said. 

"A lot of people wouldn't put up their hands for these jobs right now and yet we ask people to show up every single day under those circumstances. That is in our minds as well."

E tū head of aviation Savage, who goes by only one name, told Newshub border workers need to be acknowledged for the "hard mahi they do" ensuring New Zealanders are protected from COVID-19, while the essential services they provide continue.

"For the past year border workers have not only had to face the challenge of putting themselves and their families at risk working during a pandemic, some have also been stigmatised and suffered exclusionary behaviour from people in their community," he said. 

"We all need to recognise the vital role border workers play in keeping the economy moving during the pandemic. Some of them earn close to minimum wage but they carry on working because they know the work they do is important."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is concerned about border workers being isolated in their communities.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is concerned about border workers being isolated in their communities. Photo credit: Getty

Savage said members have reported being refused a gym membership because of their job, or their children not allowed to play with other children at school due to fearful parents.

He says fears and anxiety around COVID-19 are understandable, but the Prime Minister's advice - to be stay calm and be kind - is vital.

"Empathy and support for our border workers will go a long way towards conveying our collective gratitude for the services they have provided to New Zealand as a nation."

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said he has also received reports about border workers being isolated in their communities. 

"I think what we're hearing from our frontline is they're finding it difficult to fill their rosters, to make sure they've got enough people doing those jobs, and it is because people are reluctant to work in those jobs at the moment," he said on Wednesday. 

"I have had reports of people being isolated within their communities, there being a real stigma associated with working at the border, including anecdotal reports of some of the border workers' kids being bullied at school. 

"Those sorts of things really put people off doing these jobs and my message to all New Zealanders is to metaphorically wrap our arms around these people and be supportive of them. They are doing outstanding work."

The first batch of vaccines arrived in Auckland and border workers will be vaccinated from Saturday.
The first batch of vaccines arrived in Auckland and border workers will be vaccinated from Saturday. Photo credit: Supplied

The first batch of 60,000 Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines arrived in New Zealand earlier this week and the 12,000-strong border workforce will start receiving jabs from Saturday. 

Managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) cleaners, nurses, security staff and those who undertake health checks are first in line, as are custom and border officials, and airline staff. 

The Government expects further shipments of vaccine over the coming weeks and will receive about 225,000 vaccine courses by the end of March. The rest of the population will start receiving vaccines from the middle of the year. 

The vaccines will be administered to people 16 years and over. Patients receiving certain cancer drugs and antibody medicines should not receive it. Pregnant women should discuss the risks with their doctor, but it has been deemed safe for women who are lactating.

The Government has invested in a portfolio of four vaccines - 750,000 doses from Pfizer-BioNTech, 5 million from Janssen, 3.8 million from the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca and 5.36 million from Novavax.