Omicron Won’t Trigger Business Support – But that Could Change

Wage subsidies and resurgence support payments will not be available for businesses in the event of an Omicron outbreak, but that could change, according to Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern advised that the whole of New Zealand would move into the “red” traffic light setting if Omicron spreads in the community, Robertson told reporters that same day that rather than giving a blanket wage subsidy-type scheme, the Government will focus on supporting businesses via the leave support scheme.

He said that was because the Covid-19 protection framework, also known as the traffic light system, enabled businesses to operate with few restrictions at each setting (if they are using vaccine passes) – of course, this does not consider larger establishments that can’t break even with restricted numbers, or bars and night clubs that cannot operate with the seated and separated rules and the ripple effect this has for many business in the wider foodservice sector.

The leave support scheme is available to employers, including self-employed people, to help pay staff who have been told to self-isolate because of Covid-19 and can’t work at home. It is paid at a flat rate of $600 a week for full-time workers who were working 20 hours or more a week or $359 a week for part-time workers who were working less than 20 hours a week.

There is also the short-term absence payment available for businesses, to help pay staff who cannot work from home while waiting for a test result. Robertson said the Government would monitor the impacts of an outbreak to see whether more support measures were needed for businesses.

BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said it was important the Government established clear rules around who would be considered a close contact and what triggered self-isolation.

“Given the pace and scale at which Omicron transmits you could see quite a proportion of the workforce isolating if the rules are extremely tight,” Hope said.

If that were the case the Government would need to provide broader financial support for businesses, he said.

“They’re not really keen on creating something new.”

He said the resurgence support payment, renamed, would be a suitable vehicle to get money into businesses that still had outgoings but no income because they had no staff or customers due to isolation requirements.

“There’s going to need to be some support for businesses that simply aren’t able to operate because they end up in a situation where all of their staff are isolating.”

He said the Government should also subsidise rapid antigen tests for both businesses and the public.