Grant Robertson urges big businesses to 'rethink' layoffs, consider small businesses 'dipping into private savings'

Finance Minister Grant Robertson is urging big businesses to "rethink" layoffs and consider what small businesses are doing, as COVID-19 weighs heavily on the economy.

"We're seeing particularly from small businesses the owners of them dipping into their own pockets, their own private savings, to keep their staff on board," Robertson told Newshub.

"I think a lot of New Zealanders will look at some of the bigger parties who aren't doing that and say, 'Well, hang on, we are all in this together, could you rethink those plans?'"

It comes after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern laid into the Warehouse Group earlier this week after it announced plans to lay off more than a thousand jobs in a restructure, even after it took the wage subsidy scheme.

The Prime Minister said it made her "angry", earning her a rebuke from Retail NZ who called for "kindness" because the Government should know that larger retail chains are not immune from the impacts of the COVID-19.

New figures released to Newshub show that by Tuesday 664 people had been granted the Government's new welfare payment that provides up to $490 a week for those who have lost their jobs to COVID-19.

The Prime Minister was in Auckland on Thursday to open the new Commercial Bay shopping precinct. But it's in the middle of an economic crisis, and the mall's CEO Scott Pritchard knows some of the shops there might not make it.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson. Photo credit: Newshub

"We may have some that might not make it and we are going to try for that not to happen, but ultimately retail does have some headwinds ahead of it, so we have to be realistic about it," he told Newshub.

Even one of the Prime Minister's favoured designers, Ingrid Starnes, will be wrapping up retail stores in three months.

There are some promising signs. Spending in New Zealand went up 80 percent last month as compared to the lockdown, and the Finance Minister says it happened sooner than expected.

"The New Zealand economy is coming back a bit quicker than people expected. We need a little bit more data to see whether it's just pent up demand or whether this is going to sustain, but it is a good signal."

Comparing the spend-up to May last year, New Zealanders forked out $250 million more at supermarkets. Durables were up $122 million, but Hospitality is still lagging significantly - $428 million down on the same time last year.

Car salesman Paul Kelly told Newshub he sold more cars last month than he has in any month for the last five years.

"You can't even get a tow bar at the tow bar shop at the moment - they're backed up for nearly a month to sell tow bars."

He says now is not the start laying people off.

"You've got a moral obligation to keep people employed - that's part of being the boss. If you're collecting it at the top, it's got to work both ways."

But businesses are making mass redundancies.

A worker who lost her job at Event Cinemas told Newshub the process was painful for her.

"I don't think I can go back and go and see films at these places now without thinking about how we've been treated."

The Government's wage subsidy ran out this week but businesses that can prove 40 percent income loss because of COVID-19 can apply for an eight week extension.