Job numbers plummet by 37,500 in April as COVID-19 economic impact cripples businesses

New figures show job numbers plummeted by 37,500 in April as the economic impact of COVID-19 cripples businesses in New Zealand.

Stats NZ's data shows total filled jobs fell 1.7 percent in April 2020 compared with March 2020, when it was flat - and that April's fall is the largest drop since the filled jobs series began more than 20 years ago, in 1999.

Economic statistics manager Sue Chapman said with the country going into lockdown throughout most of April, the impact of COVID-19 is now being seen in falling job numbers.

Air New Zealand has announced plans to cut 4000 jobs, while Fletcher Building said it would lay off 1000 staff, and it's predicted up to 100,000 workers in tourism could be made redundant - all becuase of COVID-19. 

Stats NZ included workers paid by employers who are being subsidised by the COVID-19 wage subsidy scheme as filled jobs - but the scheme will soon expire, except for businesses that can prove 50 percent income loss.

Chapman said while a fall in filled jobs in New Zealand does not necessarily mean employment has ceased in all cases, Stats NZ did see a rise of more than 30,000 people claiming the Jobseeker benefit.

Treasury is forecasting unemployment to increase significantly in New Zealand, rising to 8.3 percent by the end of June, before peaking at 9.8 percent in September and then recovering thereafter.

The Government unveiled a $50 billion fund in Budget 2020 to respond to the economic impact of COVID-19, and Treasury estimates to public debt to grow from 19 percent of GDP last year to 54 percent by 2022. 

Some of the $50 billion fund has been spent, but $20 billion was left for the Government to respond to the crisis in the coming months.

Earlier this week, the Government announced that full-time workers who lost their job because of the economic impact of COVID-19 will now be eligible for tax-free weekly payments of almost $500 a week for a period of 12 weeks.

It sparked backlash from anti-poverty advocates who said it created "two-tiers of unemployed" because the Income Relief Payment is nearly double the after-tax base Jobseeker benefit, which is $250.74.

ACT leader David Seymour said New Zealand is in "desperate need" of economic policies that will give businesses the confidence to hire again.

"Aside from throwing money at every perceived problem, there's just no indication that Labour has a clear economic plan."

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said in his Budget 2020 speech that the Government "faced a choice between a public health catastrophe as has been seen in other countries or unprecedented and difficult measures".

Newshub's latest poll showed nine-in-ten New Zealanders backed the Government's call to put the country into lockdown, while Ardern's personal popularity as leader skyrocketed up 14 points to 56.5 percent. 

But Stats NZ's new data shows how the alert level rules have affected businesses.

Filled jobs in the primary industries fell 4.3 percent, while jobs in the goods-producing industries fell 1.0 percent, and in the service industries they fell 1.7 percent.

National's finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith described the numbers as "deeply concerning".

Goldsmith told Newshub it "underscores the absolute economic challenge that we face - the need to get people back to work."

He said it's time to fully open up the economy, and said he found it strange that the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters are not on the same page about keeping New Zealand at alert level 1 more another month.

"We need to get people back to work as quickly as we can," Goldsmith said, adding that he thinks it's time to move to level 1.

"We should be focused on getting international students back, opening the trans-Tasman 'bubble', and also getting cash into the small businesses that need it.

Goldsmith said the Prime Minister needs to take "broad" advice - "not just health advice but also economic advice and New Zealanders need to have the opportunity to work and provide for their families".