Judith Collins has claimed if the Government allows workplaces to say "no jab, no job", it'll drive up unemployment.
Employers are facing a potential legal minefield as the country starts to reopen its doors - the law requires them to keep staff and customers safe, but it also stops them from being able to force employees to reveal their COVID-19 vaccination status.
Those who aren't vaccinated are much more likely to contract the highly infectious virus and pass it on to others. Even highly-vaccinated places like Singapore are experiencing massive outbreaks and growing numbers of deaths, with a stubborn minority refusing the vaccine, and others not yet eligible.
The Auckland Business Chamber recently surveyed members and found 90 percent of them want the Government to step in and mandate vaccination in workplaces, Newstalk ZB reported on Monday.
"For them it's safety first for their workplaces and safety for their consumers," chief executive Michael Barnett told the station. "Business could try and make it mandatory, but we would face legal challenges and years of testing and costs. What we need is the Government to remove all ambiguity."
Employers can at present ask prospective new employees if they've been vaccinated. The Employment NZ website says the request "must be reasonable for the role (for example, required for health and safety reasons)". Candidates don't have to answer the question, but if they don't - or admit that they haven't been vaccinated - employers can use that as a reason not to hire them, but they also have to consider whether doing so might breach the Human Rights Act.
As for existing employees, requiring them to be vaccinated would require a change to the terms and conditions of their employment contract - which has to be done in consultation with them.
"I think the Government needs to give guidance to business," Collins, leader of the National Party, told The AM Show on Wednesday. "It's pretty clear that the Government isn't quite sure what to do itself."
The Government's mandate for frontline border workers to be vaccinated has been tested in court, and found to be lawful. But it’s made no commitments in regards to other sectors - not even in-person education, which resumes on Wednesday for preschoolers and possibly in less than two weeks' time for primary and secondary students.
Collins said the Government needs to be "very careful" in how it proceeds, "because the last thing you want to do is add to the extra people who are already on benefits, which is now what, about 200,000 people on main benefits ".
"Massive business loss, massive job loss happening right now, particularly in Auckland. So we would want to take the health advice on that - if the Government would like to share the health advice, we could tell them what to do. We've already rolled out our 10-point plan which they should just copy."
The Ministry of Social Development's latest data shows there were actually 360,402 people receiving a main benefit on September 24 - down 882 on the previous week.
Assuming she meant Jobseeker Support, there were 112,956 people receiving that and considered work-ready, up 6222 from August 13 - before the lockdown began - but down 366 on the week before.
There are another 81,000 receiving Jobseeker Support but are temporarily unable to work for medical reasons.
There are fewer people on main benefits and Jobseeker Support now than there were this time last year. The official unemployment rate is 4 percent, measuring up until June - the next update from Statistics NZ, which will cover the September quarter, is due on November 3.
"We believe in personal responsibility and private property rights, and if the Government's going to mandate it they need to explain why they should mandate it, because they're certainly not mandating or talking about it for churches and obviously gangs, are certainly obviously not following the rules," said Collins.
In August, Collins said vaccine mandates made sense for "frontline health workers, frontline people, border-facing workers", but it would be "a bit too tough" requiring others to get jabbed.
So far 79.4 percent of eligible Kiwis have had at least one dose, and 48.9 two. There are wide disparities between ethnicities though, with Asians getting vaccinated at nearly twice the rate of Māori.
Few countries have made vaccines compulsory, Indonesia and Turkmenistan two notable examples, but many have introduced vaccine passports which block the unvaccinated from accessing various services, such as restaurants and public events.