A dozen Defence Force personnel are taking court action in a bid to keep their jobs despite declining to have Covid-19 vaccinations.
The dozen, from throughout New Zealand, are seeking a judicial review in the High Court at Wellington of a directive from Chief of Defence Force Air Marshal Kevin Short that would mean they’re discharged if they’re not vaccinated.
Their lawyer, Christopher Griggs, said none of the group could be labelled “anti vaccine”, because they’d generally had every other injection required of them.
“The applicants are standing up for their fundamental freedom to decline medical treatment without then being treated prejudicially, a freedom which they believe that many before them have fought and given their lives for.”
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Griggs said his clients were from the navy, army and air force, with a combined 126 years of service, including deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor, Sudan and the Solomon Islands. They were high achieving and loyal, and many had received commendations for their work.
In New Zealand they’d been involved with the Canterbury Earthquakes aftermath, the Port Hills fires and the coronavirus crisis response, “where they have served in planning groups for government departments as well as in MIQ facilities”.
Griggs said while the dozen were prepared to put their names to the action, a much larger group were in the same situation.
Stuff reported in July that the privacy of military staff was being breached when, in one instance, a commanding officer putting up a list of unvaccinated people on a wall. In another, an officer made staff file past him and say, in front of everyone, if they were vaccinated.
Most of the 12 had been told they would be discharged for “poor performance” because they didn’t meet military readiness requirements, which included a Covid-19 vaccine.
“A small number of these personnel with specific medical conditions may receive medical waivers for a short period, but are then likely to be discharged on medical grounds if they still decline the vaccine.”
Workers at MIQ facilities required vaccinations, but such roles were for only a small portion of Defence Force staff, which left thousands of jobs for unvaccinated staff.
The Defence Force approach to the Covid-19 vaccine was inconsistent with its previous stance, where limits could be placed on where someone was deployed for health reasons. But they could still be retained in other roles.
“A hardline approach is being taken. In many cases the right to privacy of these loyal personnel has been breached by the military authorities publicly sharing their decision not to be vaccinated against Covid-19. They have received prejudicial treatment as a result and one officer has been relieved of his command.”
If the Chief of Defence Force wanted to take action against personnel choosing not to receive the vaccination, there was a statutory process he must follow, which hadn’t been done.
Griggs said the dozen wanted to continue their careers.
A preliminary hearing was scheduled for early October, unless the two parties could come to an agreement before then.
The Defence Force said it could couldn’t comment while the matter was before the court.
As of Thursday, 33 per cent of New Zealanders aged 12 and over were fully vaccinated and 66 per cent had received their first shot.