Essential workers given scheme to ensure they get paid for time off during COVID-19 lockdown

Essential workers given scheme to ensure they get paid for time off during COVID-19 lockdown
Photo credit: Getty

Essential workers are being given a new scheme by the Government to ensure they will continue to receive income if they need to take time off during the COVID-19 lockdown.

With a number of businesses still operating during the lockdown, such as medical professionals, they may be operating at a loss, and the Government wants to ensure staff can take time off without the risk of not getting paid. 

The scheme announced on Thursday allows for those workers who need to take leave to get paid at the same rates as the wage subsidy scheme, which is $585.50 per week for full-time workers and $350 per week for part-time staff. 

As goes for the wage subsidy scheme, employers will have to pay workers their usual income before COVID-19 or strive to pay at least 80 percent of it, of if they cannot afford that, they must pass on the full amount of the subsidy.

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said essential workers need to be able to take leave without feeling pressure to come back to work if they are vulnerable, sick or otherwise unable to work.

"The essential workers leave scheme will enable them to self-isolate and continue to receive an income in these circumstances."

The scheme supports those who are unable to work from home and need to self-isolate, or are at higher risk of becoming sick with COVID-19, or have a higher risk person in their bubble.

Officials are preparing guidance toadvise workers about what it means to be at higher risk, and that will be made available next week.

"Not all workers in essential businesses will be in this position, but for those who are, it is a significant problem," Lees-Galloway said. "For some workers this could be for the duration of the lockdown."

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said the scheme will open this coming Monday and will be administered by the Ministry of Social Development.

The scheme will be available for at least the period while the nation is at alert level 4, and ministers will review the scheme after eight weeks to consider uptake and future needs, if for example the lockdown is extended. 

Payments will be four-weekly, with the option for essential businesses to re-apply for those same workers after four weeks, or make further applications for additional workers who are eligible.

These applications can be made at any time while the scheme remains open.

It comes as GPs across New Zealand are at breaking point, with the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners (RNZCGP) calling for urgent action to address the health crisis that GPs now find themselves in. 

A survey of 900 of the country's 5500 GPs found that almost 600 had had their work hours reduced, with many doctors having lost their jobs, while some were struggling to keep their practice afloat and didn't know how they could continue. 

RNZCGP president Dr Samantha Murton said the factors include the cost of ensuring people are safe in GP clinics, remote consultations reducing patient numbers, and DHBs cancelling elective and non-urgent procedures. 

There has been some positives for essential supermarket workers, however, with Countdown and Foodstuffs giving staff a 10 percent wage increase during the four-week lockdown.