National wants wage subsidy to cover extended COVID-19 lockdown after Jacinda Ardern deems it too complex

The National Party wants the latest wage subsidy scheme extended to cover the extra four days of alert level 3 lockdown in Auckland after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern deemed it too complex. 

The alert level 3 restrictions were supposed to end at midnight on Wednesday but Ardern on Monday extended it until Sunday as a precaution following the Ministry of Health's confirmation of eight new COVID-19 cases in the community. 

The Government imposed the level 3 restrictions almost two weeks ago when COVID-19 was discovered in south Auckland, and a new wage subsidy extension was announced to help struggling businesses - but it only covered two weeks.

The Prime Minister, when asked on Monday if the latest wage subsidy extension would be extended again to cover the extra four days of lockdown, ruled it out because changing the length was too complex.  

"It is not a simple exercise to simply tack-on additional - it would require an entirely different process and regime," Ardern said. "Our focus is on getting the money out the door quickly for everyone who's already applied."

The National Party thinks that's not fair and is calling for a four-day extension. 

"We've discussed it and have decided that it would be a much better move for the Government to extend the wage subsidy for those four days," National Party leader Judith Collins said on Tuesday. 

"It's certainly of no fault of the hospitality sector or businesses in general or their staff and it is a particularly difficult time particularly during the weekend which is normally the busiest time in the hospitality sector, but also for retail," she said. 

"So, we've decided that is the kindest thing and the most sensible and pragmatic thing for the Government to do and we are saying that in our opinion that should've been extended for another four days and we would support the Government if they decide to change their minds."

Businesses that could show a revenue drop due to COVID-19 of at least 40 percent have been able to apply for the latest wage subsidy scheme extension, which is forecast to cost the Government about $510 million.

The new wage subsidy, which was made available nationwide, was for two weeks of additional support at the same rate as the other wage subsidies, which paid out $585.80 for full-time workers and $350 for part-time workers. 

The initial wage subsidy scheme had already been extended and is still available for applications until September 1. Ardern said there may be businesses that had not previously met the 40 percent drop in revenue that will now be able to access that second extension. 

"Our view is, if we find ourselves any longer than that, then absolutely we will come back and revisit that decision, but for now with the Sunday cut off we've kept it as it is," Ardern said. 

National's finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said extending the wage subsidy for the four days of extra lockdown would be "logical". 

"If a Government says to businesses they cannot trade, they cannot do their job that they're set up to do because of public health reasons, then there is a good argument for some continued Government support," he said.  

"The point that we make is this is the very worst thing for the country to be going back into lockdown and be paying all this wage subsidy. This is not what we want as a country - we want to be getting out of this and concentrating on rebuilding and growing the economy," he added. 

"But it is what it is and that's why it's so important to avoid these lockdowns."

But Goldsmith is not calling for cash grants for businesses. 

"No, we're not at that stage yet. But we are very much in the camp that you do need to continue to support businesses. The wage subsidy seems to be the best way to do that in the first instance."