Coronavirus: Harvey Norman, Kmart among largest wage subsidy payouts

The Government's COVID-19 wage subsidy scheme has paid out millions of dollars to employees and businesses across New Zealand, with household company names being some of the largest beneficiaries.

Harvey Norman, Kmart and other large retailers are among the companies who have received money under the scheme, which has so far paid out $6.6 billion.

Out of Kiwi retailers, Harvey Norman has been given one of the largest payments of $12.7 million for its 1850 staff. Kmart is close behind, having received $11.9 million for its 2077 New Zealand employees.

Two New World supermarkets had applied and been approved for the scheme, but Foodstuffs has now revealed it will ask all their stores to retract their applications.

The Ministry of Social Development search tool that shows which New Zealand businesses have applied for the wage subsidy shows Waikanae New World was paid $140,592 for 20 employees and a New World Metro was paid $482,124 for 71 employees.

Foodstuffs head of corporate affairs Antoinette Laird said in a satement they want to ensure all their staff are paid and supported during the COVID-19 crisis. But the owners "feel strongly" that since they're allowed to operate in lockdown as an essential business, they find themselves in a "privileged" and "unique" position.

"The Foodstuffs North Island and Foodstuffs South Island co-operatives have each taken the decision to communicate to their owners that at this time no New World or Pak'nSave stores will apply for the Government wage subsidy - and the strength of each cooperative will be used to support individual stores that have been affected negatively," she said.

This meant that New World stores that had applied for the subsidy needed to remove their applications from the system. Additionally, those who had received a payment would pay the money back to the Government.

In order for a business to qualify for the wage subsidy scheme, it has to demonstrate a 30 percent loss in revenue in any one month between January and June this year compared with the same month in 2019.

Under the scheme so far, 1,073,129 workers, comprising 914,931 employees and 158,198 sole traders, have been either received or are due to receive a wage subsidy payment. This represents 41 percent of the New Zealand workforce, Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni and  Minister of Finance Grant Robertson confirmed in a joint statement.

"We moved early to get money out the door to protect jobs and support New Zealanders through the lockdown. We won't be able to save every job and every business, but we are making sure people have the underlying support they need to get through this," Robertson said.

The Treasury estimates the scheme will pay out between $8 billion and $12 billion in total.

Businesses who qualify receive a lump sum payment of $7029.60 for each full time worker and $4200 for each part-time worker. The entire payment must be passed on to employees unless their normal wages are below the subsidy, in which case the worker must be paid at least their normal wages.

If someone believes their employer has acted fraudulently with the subsidy, a complaint can be made with Employment New Zealand.