Coronavirus: Nearly 5000 find jobs via Work and Income in lockdown while 40,000 applied for benefit

Work and Income NZ.
Work and Income NZ. Photo credit: File

By Sarah Robson of RNZ

Work and Income managed to get almost 5000 people into jobs during alert levels 3 and 4.

But at the same time, 40,000 people signed up for the benefit - and the Ministry of Social Development is anticipating another influx when the wage subsidy scheme comes to an end.

In the Bay of Plenty, about 840 people were able to find work in April despite the COVID-19 restrictions.

Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner Mike Bryant said the region had been hit by job losses across a range of industries.

"It's certainly been a very hectic time the last seven or eight weeks, we've seen across the Bay of Plenty an increase in benefit numbers of around about 4000."

Of those who have subsequently found work, about half of them have ended up in the kiwifruit industry, while others are working in supermarkets and other essential services.

And there were still jobs available, Bryant said.

"A lot of jobs in forestry, pruners, planting, thinners; we've got all sorts of industries, cleaners, healthcare workers - healthcare and the healthcare sector is going to be a really big opportunity - we've got jobs with painters, sanders."

But with the wage subsidy coming to an end soon for many employers, Bryant said they were preparing for more job losses and more people needing income support.

"I'm particularly worried about young people, people in hospitality and retail. Twenty-five percent of Rotorua's GDP is tourism, hospitality and retail, so that's going to have a huge impact."

Ross Allen is a forklift driver and for the last 10 years, he has done seasonal contract work for the same company.

"I'm really happy to be in work, I like to work, I don't like having to wait for the benefit and things like that - it's certainly not something that I'm used to," he said.

"I've been at work for 40 years now so unemployment's not something that's been an issue for me this whole time."

But that contract ended, just as COVID-19 hit.

Allen called Work and Income to sign up for the benefit. Within two days, his case manager had tracked down four employers who were looking for forklift drivers.

Allen is now working for Seeka Orchards, still driving a forklift, packing kiwifruit in cool stores near Te Puke.

It was a different situation for 20-year-old Bree, who had been on the benefit since finishing school and was finding it tough to get a job.

"I want to save up for a house," Bree said.

She was getting her applications knocked back, because she did not have the right qualifications.

"How can I get qualifications if you don't give me a chance?"

During lockdown, Bree got a text from Work and Income asking her if she was interested in security work.

She now has a job with First Security, and hopes to be able to build up her skills and eventually go into the police or Customs.

Her manager, Jill Priest, said she ended up taking on 45 new employees, but warned it was hard to predict future staffing needs.

"We've still got high demand, but as far as COVID goes, it's really how long is a piece of string?"

Nationally, the Ministry of Social Development said more than 3000 people went off the benefit and into work in April.

Just more than 1500 have gone into jobs in May so far.