New Zealand launches Essential Workers Leave Scheme

New Zealand launches Essential Workers Leave Scheme

Staff Reporter (Indian Newslink)
Wellington, April 2, 2020 

The government has launched a new Leave Scheme to protect essential workers from loss of income if they take leave to comply with public health regulations.

Workplace Relations and Safety Iain Minister Lees-Galloway and Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni announced the Scheme in Wellington today as a part of the efforts to mitigate the adverse effects of Covid-19.

They noted that while  a number of essential businesses continue to operate under the current lockdown conditions, many are facing a significant loss of business.

Wage Subsidy applied

“This scheme is for them and allows them to pay those workers who need to take leave due to the COVID-19 Public Health guidance at the same rates as the Wage Subsidy Scheme of $585.80 per week for fulltime workers and $350.00 per week for part-time workers,” they said.

Mr Lees-Galloway said that that the government is ensuring that essential workers have the ability to take leave, and do not feel pressured to come 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. It 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,” he said.

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

Mr Lees-Galloway said that the government is ensuring that communities are supported as people stay at home to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Focus on three groups 

Ms Sepuloni said that the Scheme, which will become effective at 12 pm on Monday, April 6, 2020, will be administered by her Ministry.

“The Scheme will focus on three groups of essential businesses workers and employers will be eligible to apply for those employees under the scheme,” she said.

They will include (a) Workers who are self-isolating in accordance with public health guidance because they have contracted the virus or have come into contact with someone who has contracted the virus (or have a dependent they need to care for who is sick or self-isolating) (b) Those deemed at higher risk if they contract COVID-19, in accordance with public health guidance and as such should self-isolate for the duration of the lockdown (and potentially longer) and (c) Those who have household members who are deemed at higher risk if they contract COVID-19, in accordance with public health and as such should self-isolate for the duration of the lockdown (and potentially longer) to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to that household member.

Ms Sepuloni said that officials are preparing guidance to support employers and employees to discuss what it means to be at higher risk.

This guidance will be made available online before the scheme goes live on Monday, she said.

The payment process

“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 at any time, while the scheme remains open,” Ms Sepuloni said.

Mr Lees-Galloway said that employers accessing the scheme should pay workers at either their usual weekly income before COVID-19, if this is less than the relevant rate provided; or a minimum of the full leave rate, if the workers’ usual income before COVID-19 exceeds the relevant rate, and in that case also make best endeavours to pay at least 80 percent of the workers’ usual income before COVID-19. Employees who are on other forms of paid leave should be paid at their usual full rates of pay.

“The scheme will be available for at least the period while the nation is at Alert Level 4 public health restrictions and Ministers will review the Scheme after eight weeks to consider uptake and future needs,” Mr Lees-Galloway said.

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