Employers in essential services and foreigners trying to leave New Zealand were the targets of Government announcements on Thursday afternoon

Essential services who employ workers who can’t go to work due to Covid-19 will be able to access the Government’s funds to pay them.

The scheme would allow employers in “essential services” to pass on the Government’s wage subsidy to those employees who had to stay away from work because they were following Covid-19 public health guidance. 

Wage subsidies are paid out at a rate of $585.80 per week for full-time employees and $350.00 per week for part-time workers. Finance Minister Grant Robertson estimated the scheme would cost $100m. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the wage subsidy scheme alongside separate measures to make it easier for foreigners to leave the country during lockdown.

“It is clear that many foreign nationals travelling here do not have the resources or the capability to adequately self-isolate,” Ardern said.

Foreigners would be able to travel domestically when they had a confirmed or scheduled international flight out of New Zealand within 24 hours of their travel, she said. 

Newsroom previously reported that up to 200,000 tourists may have found themselves unable to get home at the start of the lockdown. Some tourists on working holiday visas didn’t have enough money to go into lockdown or fly home. 

Ardern said Germany, the United Kingdom and a number of other countries had expressed interest in running ‘repatriation’ charter flights to get their citizens out of the country. 

“Foreign governments will be allowed to organise charter flights to repatriate their citizens, but only if they can satisfy New Zealand health requirements,” Ardern said.

“We will see people beginning to move fairly shortly,” she said.

Wage subsidy

Essential services are still able to continue operating under lockdown. However, due to public health guidelines not all of their employees are able to work during lockdown.

Much like the wage subsidy scheme, businesses would be responsible for applying for the subsidies and ensuring they were paid out to workers.

The scheme would apply to essential workers who had to self-isolate because they contracted the virus or were particularly vulnerable to Covid-19.

It would also cover employees who had to stay at home because they had a vulnerable individual ‘in their bubble’ or had been in contact with someone who had contracted the virus. 

Businesses who applied for the scheme could pay their workers less than the wage subsidy if that was their usual pay rate. 

Companies were required to make their “best endeavours” to pay essential workers at least 80 percent of their regular wages if they received funding through the scheme. 

$30m for GPs

Health Minister David Clark said the first part of a $30m funding boost to GPs and pharmacies had started to roll out this week. The money was part of a $500m Covid-19 health package announced earlier. 

“The general practice funding package consists of a $15 million general practice response payment aimed to support general practices with workload from testing patients and the costs incurred moving to virtual consultations,” Clark said. 

More money would be paid to District Health Boards to set up Community Based Assessment Centres (CBACs) for the swabbing and testing of people who thought they might have Covid-19.

“Covid-19 is a complex challenge, and it requires complex solutions which can respond to changing situations,” Clark said.

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