NZ waiters get reprieve as vaccine proof no longer required

There is relief among hospitality workers across New Zealand as they no longer have to check the vaccination status of patrons and endure the abuse sometimes associated. 

Cafe table setting. Photo: Jason Gunst

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ended months of frustration over the abuse incurred by hospitality workers when earlier in the month the country was moved to orange in New Zealand’s Covid traffic light system. 

Chloe Ann King, founder and leader of New Zealand’s Raise the Bar Hospitality Union (RBHU), said: “some of these people in the anti-vax movement rival even the Karens with their entitlement to enter hospitality venues and treat hospitality workers as subhuman.”  

Ellsie Coles, a New Zealand hospitality worker and advocate, is relieved by the change. 

“I’m grateful purely because the worst thing I’ve ever faced in my job in the past, like four months, is harassment at vaccine passes,” Coles said. 

The abuse can be worse for younger workers who make up a large proportion of the workforce, with a 2020 Auckland University of Technology (AUT) study finding that 27 per cent are aged between 16 and 25.  

“They’ve been harassing some of our younger girls who are like 17 or 18 and working summer jobs and never really had to deal with that kind of confrontation before and people just being straight up abusive,” Coles said. 

The AUT study, which was conducted before the increased friction caused by the mandates, showed that 56 per cent of workers experienced verbal abuse while 18 per cent had been physically abused. 

While the study indicates that only 32 percent of this abuse was perpetrated by customers, according to King, the decision to force hospitality workers to police the vaccination status of patrons had made already unsafe working conditions worse. 

“I don’t think employers, or the government, really comprehend how serious the health and safety issues are in our industry and then we move on to the increased verbal abuse hospitality workers are dealing with because of the anti-mandate and anti-vax movement,” King said. 

Coles argued that more was needed to be done to protect workers from the dangers of turning people away. 

“One of the problems is you put these responsibilities on people who didn’t previously have those responsibilities but don’t somehow compensate or make up for it in some way. Like if you have government funded bouncers that are just standing out the front of places who are used to dealing with people in that kind of capacity,” Coles said. 

While taking the burden off workers to check vaccine passports is a welcome move, King believes it introduces other problems. The roll back of mandates for hospitality patrons does not include provisions for workers at more risk of severe disease from Covid-19 including the immunocompromised. “We’ve just let it rip, right? That’s what’s happened,” King said. 

“Immunocompromised or disabled hospitality workers now are being absolutely put at risk and even people without compromised immune systems are still expressing they’re quite scared.” 

For King the government’s handling of hospitality workers during the pandemic has exacerbated longstanding problems within the industry. 

“Throughout my own 16 years working hospitality I’ve had shift workers keep working with at least second-degree oil burns because they’re not allowed to leave when they hurt themselves. You know workers are commonly so sick they can barely stand,” King said. 

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