Royal Commission of Inquiry into the New Zealand COVID-19 response.

Two weeks ago, Tumu Whakarae | National President Dr Julie Douglas and Te Pou Ahurei | National Secretary Dr Sandra Grey appeared before the Royal Commission of Inquiry regarding New Zealand’s COVID-19 response. Commissioner Hekia Parata sought feedback on a range of questions relating to what went well and what could have been done better, with an eye to an improved response in the face of future pandemics and disasters.

We shared our experience that TEC and Ministry of Education kept the TEU closely in the loop with regular meetings and updates. This ensured our communications to members was both timely and accurate. Messages aligned with that from employers which gave confidence.

Areas where we felt response could improve included no clawbacks by TEC where a drop in enrolments occurred, and better protections for workers on precarious employment arrangements.

We felt the tertiary sector needed more sector wide health related direction with less variation within it. At the local institutional level, the apparent lack of planning resulted in an ad hoc programme delivery response from some which heavily impacted workload and work stress in a context of high personal and domestic anxiety and uncertainty.

For individual workers working from their personal spaces there were issues of inadequate equipment, space, and privacy, while working under an expectation to provide programme delivery as usual and manage the heightened level of student anxiety and hardship caused by the major changes bought during lockdowns.

Generally speaking, the initial response by the government was excellent and employers displayed levels of compassion which enabled a united response. However, as time passed, employer compassion and empathy diminished and were replaced by responses driven more by an economic imperative. This was evidenced by a reduced understanding and support for individuals with complex personal situations trying to do their best during the pandemic.

Our hope out of the inquiry is that government entities and individual institutions undertake credible audits of emergency plans to ensure that a pandemic of this nature and duration is better understood, lessons are learned, and better responses are in place when the next one comes.

The involvement of staff and their unions must form part of this response plan.