Canterbury dairy farmers Dinuka and Nadeeka Gamage believe vaccination against Covid-19 is vital to help protect their family, staff and business.
The 2021 Canterbury/North Otago Share Farmers of the Year contract milk 980 cows for Dairy Holdings Ltd at Ealing near Ashburton, where they employ three full-time staff.
“Getting vaccinated is important, especially for rural communities. The vaccine is part of our plan to shield our business from the virus,” Dinuka said.
“All five of us, and our 15-year-old son, have had the first dose of the vaccine. We’re booked in to have our second dose this month.”
The Gamage’s are from Sri Lanka and their staff come from India and Argentina. Until the borders reopen, they remain cut off from their whānau.
“We’re like many people working in New Zealand’s primary sector, we haven’t seen our families overseas for a long time,” Dinuka said.
“The more people we can get fully vaccinated, the sooner borders will hopefully reopen to allow travel and help ease workforce issues.”
Dinuka and Nadeeka Gamage with their sons Anu (15) and Thejan (10). Photo / Supplied
It’s a sentiment echoed by Federated Farmers. The industry organisation is encouraging all farmers to support their staff to get vaccinated.
“I know farmers have been flat tack with calving and lambing, and now mating is starting on dairy farms. But there’s nothing more important than the health of your family, your staff and their families,” Federated Farmers employment spokesman Chris Lewis said.
“If your nearest urban centre has a walk-in vaccination centre, or a GP clinic is willing to take a short-notice booking, you might even send in a staff member with a few dollars to pick up a morning or afternoon tea shout for the rest of the team.”
Lockdowns and limits on gathering sizes have forced the cancellation of events such as field days, discussion groups, sporting fixtures and A and P shows.
“We all need social connections. In rural New Zealand, we often work on our own or within small teams, more so now with current staff shortages, so social and networking opportunities are a lifeline for our mental health and wellbeing,” president of Rural Women New Zealand Gill Naylor said.
“High vaccination rates are one of the tools that will enable restrictions to be eased.”
The primary sector’s largest employers have been part of workplace pilots to make it easier for workers to be vaccinated.
Dairy co-operative Fonterra employs more than 12,000 people across its New Zealand manufacturing sites, distribution centres, offices and Farm Source stores.
“We’ve administered more than 7500 vaccines to our employees,” Fonterra’s director of global quality and safety Greg McCollough said in early October.
Fonterra chief executive Miles Hurrell gets his vaccination. Photo / Supplied
“Vaccinations were available on-site at most of our workplaces. Where there were too few employees at any one office or site, those people were given time to go to workplaces where the vaccination clinics were happening.”
“We made it as easy as possible for people who work on our sites to have vaccinations.”
The dairy co-op’s vaccination drive is part of sector-wide efforts to prevent disruptions during the busy spring period when milk production peaks.
“Keeping milk collection and processing going is crucial for our farmers, the welfare of animals and to continue getting milk on the table for New Zealanders,” McCollough said.
The meat processing industry is New Zealand’s largest manufacturing sector and directly employs more than 25,000 people.
As summer looms on the horizon, it’s vital the sector’s processing capacity isn’t affected by positive cases of Covid-19.
Some processors have offered on-site vaccinations.
In September, Alliance Group’s Smithfield plant in Timaru hosted night clinics, in partnership with Arowhenua Whānau Services (AWS), as part of its ongoing drive to provide easy access to Covid-19 vaccinations for staff.
Alliance Group's Smithfield plant manager Karen Morris. Photo / Supplied
The plant’s vaccination support programme began in June when it hosted a trial clinic for South Canterbury District Health Board (DHB).
“Our focus has been on making it as easy as possible for all of our people to get the vaccine,” Alliance Group’s Smithfield plant manager Karen Morris said.
“These night clinics provide easy access to vaccinations for workers who might usually be asleep during normal clinic or GP hours.”
High vaccination rates will enable horticulture businesses to operate efficiently again and source workers to harvest crops.
“We’re approaching the busy summer season where our workforce doubles to harvest strawberries and seasonal vegetables. High vaccination rates will ensure people can move freely to where they are needed to pick crops,” general manager of Vegetables New Zealand Antony Heywood said.
Vaccinations are free and one of the most powerful tools against Covid-19.
More information is available at www.covid19.govt.nz