Coronavirus: Taxpayers' Union gives up 'ideological purity', accepts $60,000 in taxpayer wage subsidies

The Taxpayers' Union, a group which highlights what it sees as wasteful Government spending and argues for lower taxes, has been granted more than $60,000 in taxpayer money as part of the COVID-19 wage subsidy.

The money will be used to support nine of the incorporated society's employees, according to an entry on the Government's public database of wage subsidy recipients.

"This decision was made on the basis of our ethical obligations to staff during the Government-mandated economic shutdown," a post on the group's website said.

"The decision to accept this subsidy was not as simple for us as for most organisations. Prior to COVID-19, we have stated on the record that we would never accept taxpayer funding. That commitment was, of course, made in a time few New Zealanders could possibly have anticipated COVID-19 and the ensuing economic situation.

"After brief deliberation, the Taxpayers' Union board determined the welfare of our employees to be a more pressing immediate concern than ideological purity."

More than $6 billion has been paid out by the Government in the past couple of weeks, helping businesses and organisations keep staff on while their ability to operate has been hampered by the pandemic alert level 4 lockdown. About $8 million of that went to Newshub's owner MediaWorks, to support more than 1000 employees. 

To be eligible for the subsidy, an employer has to show they've had "a minimum 30 percent decline in actual or predicted revenue over the period of a month, when compared with the same month last year, and that decline is related to COVID-19", and have taken "active steps to mitigate the impact" of the virus, which has killed nearly 100,000 people worldwide since emerging in China late last year.

Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams told Newshub he's taken a pay cut himself, and is calling on public sector leaders to do the same. 

"I've had to lead from the top and take a pay reduction, and we're calling on people in the public service - leaders - to take a pay cut, and you've obviously had to do the same thing." 

The group has called on elected officials, public sector bosses and leadership teams to take a 12-month 20 percent pay cut, and for pay hikes to be postponed until GDP recovers to 2019 levels, assuming the pandemic causes a deep recession - as is widely predicted.

"A temporary salary reduction for those paid the most in the public sector would be a prudent and compassionate response to the pressures faced by households and businesses across New Zealand," the group said in a release.

"Business leaders predict unemployment to rise to around ten percent in the coming months, and private sector bosses are taking financial haircuts to limit the impact on lower earners."

Williams declined to comment on whether Taxpayers' Union staff have also taken pay cuts, or if the group was in danger of folding without the wage subsidy, referring Newshub to the statement released earlier this week, which said they backed the Government's move to top up wages through the pandemic and would not criticise other employers who took the subsidy. 

"It is important to distinguish between targeted corporate welfare, which we oppose, and across-the-board compensation for the effects of a Government-mandated economic shutdown."

The wage subsidy is intended to keep staff paid for at least 12 weeks. The lockdown is currently scheduled to end on April 22. The Government is expected to announce whether it will remain or be lifted on April 20.