COVID-19: Michael Wood pushes back on claim Govt not giving businesses advice about revised mandate rules in tense interview

The Workplace Relations and Safety Minister is pushing back on claims the Government hasn't provided advice to businesses about the revised COVID-19 mandate rules, saying official guidance is available online.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday announced the Government's plan to loosen COVID regulations including removing vaccine mandates for several industries.

Vaccine passes will be optional for businesses from early next month and immunisation mandates are being rolled back to just a few industries including health, aged care, border and Corrections workers.

But businesses are confused about what this means for them with COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins even telling them to lawyer up before making any decisions.

It's a confusion shared by employment lawyer Ethel Chey who told Newshub on Thursday it's a tricky situation because not only is there no official advice yet, but no law.

"It is a bit of a mess," Chey said.

But that claim is being contested by Employment Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood who told AM on Friday advice is available.

"I don't agree with that assessment, we have the same situation that we have had for some time now, which is that individual businesses are able to undertake a health and safety assessment if they wish for there to be a vaccination requirement in their workplace."

Wood said further advice would be available in the coming days but health advice is available. When questioned by AM co-host Ryan Bridge why in-depth advice wasn't already available given the Government has had ample time to prepare, Wood said it is.

"This is the same situation we have had right through the pandemic, which is that businesses can make these decisions. There is guidance that is available. It is on the WorkSafe website but as things change through the course of the pandemic we update that guidance and we will be providing updated guidance soon."

When asked whether the guidance was relevant to the Government's Wednesday announcement, Wood said yes.

"It's the underlying health guidance that is up on the WorkSafe website."

But when Newshub checked the website there was a large red banner that read: "New Zealand's COVID-19 Protection Framework settings are being updated. These updates will come into effect from 11:59pm on Friday 25 March. We are updating our guidance on WorkSafe's expectations for businesses and services. We will provide updated content as soon as possible. In the meantime you can visit Unite against COVID-19 for more information."

The link provided takes readers to the general COVID rules page on the Unite Against COVID-19 website.

When Bridge pointed out the banner to Wood, he said the banner is just letting people know updated advice will be released soon.

"The advice is on the website but there's a banner up there telling you there will be further updated advice coming soon," he said.

"The MyVaccine passes are in place until the fourth of April, there is advice that is available and there will be further updated advice that is coming through. The basic situation is the same, which is that workplaces on their own basis can conduct health and safety assessments, consider the particular risks on their worksite and then make a decision from there."

Outgoing National MP Simon Bridges hit back at Wood, saying it's clear there is confusion over the rules both within businesses and the Government.

"Michael is the actual Minister in this area and he can't even tell us. Think about the poor small business owner who is listening to this tearing their hair out because all they can hear is ‘cost and compliance and confusion’. And they are still none the wiser about what they're meant to do with their workers, let alone the workers who are unvaccinated and they may be in a process with.

"It is a dog's breakfast and I think actually Michael [Wood] and Jacinda Ardern have a clear obligation to be clear."

The WorkSafe website has general advice for employers who are deciding on whether to introduce mandates. But it seems businesses who are in the process of employment disputes due to Government mandates will need to wait to see what the change means for them.