Uncertainty ahead as unemployment rises in Hawke's Bay and Gisborne

Forestry is back but many others are without jobs on the East Coast.
Forestry is back but many others are without jobs on the East Coast. Photo credit: RNZ / Kate Newton

By Tom Kitchin of RNZ

More than 10,000 people are actively looking for work in the North Island's East Coast, with layoffs sharply rising.

Forestry may be back but for many others it is a waiting game to see if employers will keep them on when the subsidy cash runs out.

Chef Punit D'souza was one who lost his job in tourism and hospitality.

He was executive chef at Elephant Hill winery in Te Awanga, along the coast near Hastings and had only moved to Hawke's Bay about six months ago.

But a few weeks into lockdown, Elephant Hill restaurant staff were invited to a meeting to announce their jobs had gone.

"It was a shocker, obviously, it's a famous winery," D'souza said.

"It took me about two months to get that job through trial and interview processes and my family moved here three days before lockdown."

Job seeker numbers have increased by 30 percent in Gisborne and Hawke's Bay, about 8 percent of the working population.

Ministry of Social development regional commissioner Annie Aranui said Gisborne's forestry sector was hit hard when China closed its ports in February.

That was compounded in Gisborne and Hawke's Bay when the fruit picking season drew to a close.

"Our biggest growth area was in the month of April," Aranui said.

"That was the month we saw increases in a mix of both Covid layoffs and also returning seasonal workers so of course in the Hawke's Bay with horticulture, some work had come to an end."

Trust Tairāwhiti business growth adviser Wendy Gatley said Gisborne was "cautiously optimistic" with its unemployment numbers.

"Our forestry sector is back and going extremely well, our primary food sector is operating near capacity and we have one of the lowest exposures in the country to tourism - we only have 5 percent of our workers employed in the tourism sector."

Business Hawke's Bay chief executive Carolyn Neville said the region was also cushioned by a high level of essential workers, but the full effect of Covid-19 is still to be felt.

"Obviously for some industries where there's a long term impact, where there's no longer a wage subsidy then there will be some really serious discussions to be had."

D'souza said although his experience had been tough, he could only look forward.

"It's unfortunate but at the end of the day to be honest it is what it is and everyone needs to move on from it and carry on with their lives, and look at something else you know, for a better future."