News & Updates

Resident visa extension welcomed by busines

9 September 2020

The EMA says the Government’s announcement extending resident visas gives certainty to skilled workers trying to return or get into the country and into work and is a relief for member businesses.

Head of Advocacy and Strategy, Alan McDonald, says getting people with the right skills is a long-standing issue for business members that has been exacerbated by COVID-19.

“We are aware of businesses that have delayed projects that would increase employment opportunities because they could not get key people back into the country,” he says.

“These people are from categories of skills that we simply don’t have, or do not have enough of, in New Zealand, so it’s good to see that tap slowly turning back on and them being able to return home.”

Mr McDonald says once health conditions and border controls allow it would also be helpful to see a greater number of exemptions proceed to help get businesses and projects back on track.

“The EMA will continue to work actively with Immigration New Zealand on opportunities to improve these processes and provide greater certainty for New Zealand businesses and their impacted workers.”

Alert Level 2 in Auckland from midnight Sunday August 30

29 August 2020

Changes to the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Alert Level Requirements) Order 2020 slightly vary those when Auckland was previously Alert Level 2. The measures are in place so people can have confidence in getting back to their normal activities within the guidelines.

Requirements for workplace remain the same with contact tracing, physical distancing of one metre and good personal hygiene practices including not going to work when sick, covering coughs and sneezes and frequent hand washing and sanitising.

The key points that need clarification for businesses are around the number of people you can have in one defined space, and the use of facemasks.

Businesses can have up to 100 clients or customers within one defined space on their premises as long as they can adhere to social distancing of one metre. It may be a sensible health and safety measure for staff who come into contact with many different people to wear a face mask.

If you are in the food and drink businesses and services you can have up to 100 patrons but people can be grouped in no more than ten, for example at a table, which must be one metre away from other tables.

Socially, gatherings of more than 10 people are not permitted, except for funerals or tangihanga where 50 people are allowed.

Two new, compulsory changes to the order include face masks being worn by everyone using public transport, and all businesses being required to display the NZ COVID Tracer QR code and have in place measures to enable efficient contact tracing. 

All border restrictions have been removed.

For more information please see the EMA’s dedicated site covid19.ema.co.nz, call AdviceLine on 0800 300 362, or the Business Helpline on 0800 500 362.

Alert Level change on Sunday welcomed but border issue remains

24 August 2020

The EMA welcomes the Government’s announcement of Auckland returning to Alert Level 2 at midnight this Sunday, August 30, but says border control issues will still be a major hurdle for businesses in the next six days.   

Chief Executive Brett O’Riley says the rate of processing exemptions is unacceptable and with many being told it may take up to seven days, Alert Level 3 will be over by the time they get them.  

The shambles at the border began when documentation that was acceptable during the previous Alert Level 3 and Alert Level 4 was no longer acceptable, meaning people couldn’t get to work and goods couldn’t get through. That was followed by communication breakdowns that saw some getting through and some not.  

He says that while many businesses will welcome the news of the move to Alert Level 2 at midnight on Sunday unfortunately for those in hospitality or retail social distancing rules inhibit trading.  

The EMA and the BusinessNZ network have been working with the Government to solve the ongoing regional border issue, and Mr O’Riley says that if anything the return to Alert Level 3 has highlighted how crucial it is to be better prepared. 

“The problems with the regional border will continue to have a major impact on businesses in the upper North Island, not just Auckland, until midnight Sunday and we must do better not only in the next four days, but in future, he says. 

The EMA is keen to work with the Government on adapting the guidelines at each alert level, based on updated knowledge of COVID-19 and public health concerns, to make it clear for businesses what they are expected to do at each level if they wish to operate. 

“We want to see businesses allowed to open as long as they meet those restrictions rather than a system of exemptionsand we want to see clear guidelines and timelines so that businesses can respond quickly to each change in alert level.” 

“But we also need Government agencies to respond in the same way to allow businesses to operate while keeping staff and customers safe.”  

Alert level changes should be confirmed if conditions allow

23 August 2020

The EMA is urging the Government to announce tomorrow that Auckland will be moving to Alert Level 2 at midnight next Wednesday, August 26, so that businesses can be prepared.

“The impact on business continues to escalate and they need some certainty about when they can get back to an alert level that enables them to operate more normally,” says Chief Executive Brett O’Riley.

“We know that the negative effect on people’s mental wellbeing and the financial pressures are rising quite sharply in the business community.”

He is also urging the Government to adapt the guidelines at all alert levels based on updated knowledge of COVID-19 and public health concerns, for example the use of masks.

“Along with the other members of the BusinessNZ Network we worked with the Government on the initial workplace guidelines and we are keen to do so again. Businesses are highly conscious of and compliant with Health and Safety requirements and will do whatever is necessary to be able to operate normally,” says Mr O’Riley.

“Businesses and the community need a level of confidence that they are doing the right thing to protect themselves and others, for example when they are travelling to and from work on public transport, so the guidelines must be adapted to be very clear what they are expected to do.”

Regardless, says Mr O’Riley, if conditions allow the Government should let Auckland businesses put plans in place to swing back into action first thing next Thursday, which they have proved they can do safely under existing guidelines.

The alert level change could also remove the major, ongoing issue with regional border control which has caused no end of problems, including essential goods and employees not being able to get through, Mr O’Riley says.

“Things have improved but it’s still taking those who are entitled to hours to get through because of the sheer volume of vehicles.”

“We’ve also seen management of quarantine facilities tightened up and tracing appears to be working better so if we’re confident in those systems let’s get the economy back to work before more businesses are forced into closure.”

Regional border process must be better

18 August 2020

The EMA says a main concern of many of its member businesses from Taupo to Northland is getting through regional borders, with or without the right paperwork.  

“The system is just not working properly and there is no consistency of information to the police manning the borders, or to those trying to get through,” says EMA Chief Executive Brett O’Riley.  

He says the EMA has been talking to Government and officials over the last 24-hours on streamlining the process.  

“We find it puzzling that people who have had exemptions as essential workers since lockdown in March cannot now use them to get through to do their jobs even though this is Alert Level 3,” says Mr O’Riley.   

He has heard anecdotally of dairy factory workers at Pokeno being turned back at the border, waste management crews who live on one side of the border who can’t get through to work, and a farmer who has property in two regions but can’t tend them properly right in the middle of calving season.  

“Some of our members have been told that it will take the Ministry of Health up to seven days to process their applications for exemptions, by which time we’ll likely be back at Alert Level 2!” Mr O’Riley says. 

“All we’re asking is for officials to adapt and respond the way they’re asking business to adapt and respond.” 

For more on these latest announcements register for the EMA’s free live webinar with Brett O’RileyEmployment Relations and Safety Manager Paul Jarvie, and Head of Legal Matthew Dearing today, August 18, at 11am.  

Good For Business​

17 August 2020

The EMA says the Government’s further extension to the Wage Subsidy Scheme is good news for Auckland businesses who are unable to operate at all or are operating at reduced capacity at Alert Level 3.  

Chief Executive Brett O’Riley says the scheme, as well as the simplified COVID-19 Leave Support Scheme and extension to the Mortgage Deferral Scheme to March next yearwill all help.  

“More of our Auckland business members have been able to remain open this time around because they have put processes in place to meet Alert Level 3 conditions, but some simply cannot,” he says.  

“The 14day assessment period for this Wage Subsidy Scheme responds to concerns the EMA expressed on behalf of many businesses throughout our membership area about the impact of Auckland being at Alert Level 3, and not being able to qualify because of the 40 per cent and 30-day rules.”  

The EMA and the BusinessNZ network continues to talk to the Government about other matters requiring assistance, for example property rental costs, which represent a substantial cost to businesses in service industries. 

“We’re also still concerned about anomalies in the way the borders around Auckland are being managed and have been working closely with Government agencies in the last 24-hours to ensure businesses are getting consistent messaging and are being treated consistently by police manning checkpoints,” says Mr O’Riley.  

For more on these latest announcements register for the EMA’s free live webinar with Brett O’RileyEmployment Relations and Safety Manager Paul Jarvie, and Head of Legal Matthew Dearing at 11am tomorrow, Tuesday August 18.  

 

For more information please see call AdviceLine on 0800 300 362, or the Business Helpline on
0800 500 362. 
 

Open For Business

12 August 2020

Auckland is now back to Alert Level 3:

  • Businesses can operate but with very few exceptions (eg supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol stations) must be contactless, and staff must not physically interact with customers, suppliers
  • Freight deliveries are allowed
  • Physical distancing must apply in workplaces
  • Businesses should display a QR code poster (you can create one here)
  • Working from home is encouraged
  • Mask use is encouraged – businesses are advised to obtain masks for staff if they wish to operate
  • Gatherings of up to 10 people allowed only for weddings, funerals and tangihanga
  • Public venues closed

The rest of NZ is back to Alert Level 2 :

  • Businesses can operate
  • Businesses can open to the public, with physical distancing & record keeping
  • Freight deliveries are allowed · Businesses should display a QR code poster (you can create one here)
  • Hospitality businesses must keep groups of customers separated, seated & served by a single person.
  • Maximum of 100 people at a time in a defined space.
  • Public venues can open, with physical distancing & record keeping
  • Businesses should prepare for a possible future move to level 3, e.g. by obtaining masks and PPE for staff, and testing their ability to send and receive goods contactlessly)

The latest official advice on Covid restrictions is here

Businesses urged to adapt to keep trading

13 August 2020

The Employers and Manufacturers Association is urging businesses to adapt to the restrictions of Alert Level 3 so they can stay open and keep trading.

“With Health Minister Chris Hipkins more or less ruling out Alert Level 4 restrictions today it’s important for businesses to remember that they can open under Level 3 restrictions as long as they meet the conditions,” says EMA Chief Executive Brett O’Riley.

“That means you can open if your staff can’t work from home, you can meet social distancing requirements of 1m within the workplace or 2m with customers, and you don’t have physical contact between you and your customers or deliveries.

“Level 3 does not mean you have to be an essential service, it means you can function if you meet those conditions. It is a not a complete lockdown like Level 4.”

Mr O’Riley says it was good to see how many businesses had adapted to Level 3 in the past couple of days in Auckland with many food service businesses trading on a click and collect basis or delivery only, and it is pleasing to see manufacturers and construction companies able to operate by adopting the Level 3 guidelines.

“We didn’t see that last time but we have seen businesses adapt this time.”

The EMA also had a message for Government to provide more notice and lead-in times for business to adapt to changing alert levels.

“It’s understandable that the Government moved so quickly to go to Level 3 this time and it doesn’t look like Auckland or the rest of the country is going to Level 4 as some feared. But if, for example, the announcement at 5.30pm tonight is for Auckland to go to Level 2, then businesses will have no time to prepare for that overnight and it would be a scramble for many businesses to gear up for a change that came in on Monday.”

For more information please see the EMA’s dedicated site covid19.ema.co.nz, call AdviceLine on
0800 300 362, or the Business Helpline on 0800 500 362.

Be prepared with PPE

12 August 2020

As Auckland moves to Alert Level 3 and the rest of the country moves to Level 2 the EMA’s Alan McDonald is urging businesses to be prepared for whatever may come by making sure they have the right PPE.

PPE Supplier list can be found here

Auckland back at Alert Level 3

12 August 2020

Tonight the Prime Minister and Director General announced that New Zealand has had four cases of COVID-19 outside of a managed isolation or quarantine facility in New Zealand.

The Auckland region will move to Alert Level 3 from midday tomorrow, Wednesday 12th August, for the next three days until midnight Friday 14th August. The geographic boundary is that of the Auckland Super City.

Travel will be limited to within the Auckland region. Mask use is encouraged when accessing essential services.

The rest of New Zealand will move to Alert Level 2 and this will run through till midnight on Friday 14th August. This means social distancing measures will apply. Mass gathering limited to 100 people. All other guidance about Level 2 will apply. The Prime Minister noted mask use is encouraged on public transport.

Reminder, here’s what the Alert Level system requires of New Zealanders.

If you need health advice, please contact Healthline 0800 611 116.

If you need business advice please contact AdviceLine on 0800 800 362 or the Business Helpline 0800 500 362.

ACC levy freeze relief for businesses

06 July 2020

The EMA is pleased with the Government’s announcement today that it is freezing ACC levies, paid by businesses, the self-employed and motorists to cover the costs of accidents, for two years.

Manager Employments Relations and Safety, Paul Jarvie, says it will provide certainty for businesses that will help them with their budgeting.

“We want to see more of these kinds of decisions from the Government that will make a real difference to all businesses post-COVID-19, and to the overall economy’s regeneration,” he says.

Mr Jarvie cautions though that any gains made from freezing the levies for the next two years cannot come back as hikes when the freeze finishes.

“We appreciate it’s very difficult, but we hope that ACC will also be very conscious of managing medical costs over the next two years so businesses aren’t hit with additional costs in the end.”

Alert Level 1 a relief but many businesses will still struggle

08 June 2020

The EMA says its 7000 members and businesses across the country are relieved at the Government’s announcement of Alert Level 1 from midnight Wednesday but warns the hard work for the economy lies ahead.

Head of Advocacy and Strategy, Alan McDonald, says the move to Level 1 should give employees and employers the confidence to return to their workplaces and rebuild their businesses.

“We can be rightly proud of controlling COVID-19, but now we need to see people and confidence returning to our CBDs and businesses. We need a similar nationwide response to kick-starting the economy,” he says.

“We feel for the many employers who’ve seen their business close or have been forced to lay-off valued staff who in many cases were also friends. We also feel for the many thousands of people who have lost their jobs. It’s been an incredibly tough time and unfortunately the closures and redundancies are by no means ending with the move to Level 1.

“For many it is too late but now we need a national response to get people flowing back through our town centres, back to work and getting the economy moving. International uncertainty and lack of confidence in the domestic economy means we need to see measures that will help restore the confidence of business owners, investors, workers and consumers to get the dollars flowing again.  We need to get the economy on a fast-track to recovery.”

“With the lack of cases and the excellent regimes businesses have put in place to maintain people’s health no one should have any concerns about getting straight back to work,” he says.

Mr McDonald says that while recent news of the wage subsidy extension will be will be welcomed by the 40,000 eligible, the EMA was also keen to discuss a comprehensive comeback plan.

Alert Level 1 coming but too late for many

25 May 2020

The EMA is disappointed with the Government announcement today that the country will not move to Alert Level 1 until at least Monday, June 22, saying every day at the moment counts, particularly for struggling SMEs.

Chief Executive Brett O’Riley says while measures like the temporary payment to support New Zealanders who lose their jobs due to COVID-19 is welcomed, the focus needs to be on keeping people in their jobs in the first place.

“With the success the country has had in relation to the number of cases – which has continued to drop through Alert Level 2 as expected – we don’t see any justification why the country can’t go to Alert Level 1 this Tuesday, June 2.

“The Government is rightly proud of how going hard and going early paid off in terms of controlling COVID-19, but we should be seeing the same approach to kick-starting the economy,” he says.

 “We were hoping that today employers and employees would be given some hope and confidence in their recovery, by being able to largely get back to business is usual within the health guidelines,” he says.   

Everyone understands very clearly that systems, processes and workplace environments for some have been forever changed, and businesses and the community have tackled that admirably.  

“That’s not the issue. The issue is that at this moment so many businesses have nothing left in the tank, and by then they won’t have any wage subsidy left either, to they just won’t be able to regenerate.”

“Is it fear of a second wave, is that we can’t do it until the contact tracing card is in play, or what is the justification for the enormous cost of letting yet more of the cornerstone of our economy – our SMEs – go to the wall?”

Restructures and redundancies on the rise for businesses

21 May 2020

The EMA says rising inquiries to its AdviceLine and the announcement by Fletchers of about 1000 redundancies underlines the tough times businesses big and small continue to face under COVID-19 restrictions.

Chief Executive Brett O’Riley says businesses are increasingly having to make the tough decisions to ensure their survival as they can no longer hold off.

“Calls to our AdviceLine on restructuring and redundancy since March are now double the usual rate of inquiries. Since the lockdown began on March 25 until yesterday we’ve fielded 650 calls about restructure and redundancy. That’s represents nearly 10 percent of our membership base,” he says.

“We’ve already had almost 200 inquiries this month with nearly two full working weeks left in May. With the deadline for the first tranche of the wage subsidy approaching in June, I expect the figure for May to exceed the 250 inquiries we had in March.”

Mr O’Riley says that while redundancies at the big end of town were the most visible the majority of EMA members were from the SME sector and that is where the most damage would occur when the current wage subsidy ran out and the tighter restrictions for phase two of the subsidy kicked in.

“While many businesses are able to operate at something near normal at Alert Level 2, there are also many businesses that can’t open or remain uneconomic under Level 2 restrictions. That strengthens the case for moving to Level 1 as soon as possible if the health conditions allow,” he says.

The EMA is also working with central and local government on a number of recovery opportunities, including the manufacturing and export sectors, skills, and transitioning workers.

In the meantime, the EMA’s AdviceLine and BusinessLine services were continuing to offer assistance for businesses and members seeking a way through the issues posed by the COVID-19, and webinars on Retention and Redeployment, and Restructure and Redundancy with the EMA’s Head of Legal, Matthew Dearing, are also available to all businesses.

The EMA’s AdviceLine is 0800 300 362, and its dedicated website www.covid19.ema.co.nz.

Balance about right in Rebuilding Together budget

14 May 2020

The EMA says the Government’s budget amidst COVID-19 was always going to have to strike the right balance between spending and debt levels to regenerate the economy for the benefit of all.

Chief Executive Brett O’Riley believes it does provide a first step in doing this, but is keen to continue to work together with the Government on long term economic recovery and additional sector-specific plans.

“We are particularly pleased with the $4 billion business support package, the $3b for shovel-ready infrastructure projects, and the focus on innovation and digitisation and vocational education and training,” he says.

“For businesses who have suffered a 50 per cent downturn since this time last year the extension of the wage subsidy by eight weeks will be welcome news, and for SMEs $10m target for them to improve their e-commerce offering and additional incentives and grants to encourage e-commerce adoption will be crucial.”

The EMA says the combination of immediate and ongoing support, especially in the digital space, does help especially in the short term.

“We know it’s hard for businesses, especially SMEs to look at innovation when they’re struggling to stay solvent, but now is the time to capitalise on the things they’ve had to do differently and use the Government’s support to do things better into the future,” says Mr O’Riley.

The EMA believes that increased support for R&D including the short-term temporary loan scheme to incentivise businesses to continue with plans, with the help of one-off finance administered by Callaghan Innovation, is the key for many to be able to pivot and regenerate.

“We’re also pleased to see the $216m boost to NZTE to expand its scope of support to businesses, particularly with digital services,” says Mr O’Riley.

And although positive economic indicators are set to take a plunge in the short term – GDP will go down and unemployment and debt levels up – at least those who have lost their jobs have prospects for the future, although potentially doing different work.

The $1.6b Trades and Apprentice Package to provide training opportunities for people of all ages is a practical measure to get people back to work, and the $50m allocated for Maori Apprentice and Trades Training is also welcomed as we’re already seeing younger people join the dole queues at a faster rate than others.

“It is also pleasing to see that the Government has balanced the economic need to the country with overall wellbeing, with it addressing housing with a $5b building package through Kainga Ora, $121m for community initiatives for at risk young people, and $1b for the environment,” says Mr O’Riley.   

But while there is cash for key sectors such as Export and Manufacturing, the key will be in the detail of these plans.

“Manufacturing is acknowledged as an essential plank of our economic recovery going forward, and we’re keen to work with the Government on a more detailed, future-focused plan for this sector, similar to the $400m Tourism Sector Investment Plan that has been announced,” says Mr O’Riley.

“We are also looking forward to providing any input we can to the Infrastructure Reference Group that will govern the projects that will literally help get our economy moving, for the good of all.”

Level 2 a relief to many businesses

11 May 2020

The EMA says Government’s announcement that the majority of businesses will be back to work on Thursday is a relief.

Chief Executive Brett O’Riley says he is pleased for the EMA’s 7000 member businesses, and for the country as a whole, that the focus has shifted to restoring people’s livelihoods.

“The Government trusted businesses at Alert Levels 4 and 3, and it is good to see that trust further extended at Level 2 to allow the majority of businesses to return and begin the task of restoring their own operations and the national economy,” he says.

Mr O’Riley is confident that businesses will stick to guidelines to ensure the best public health outcomes, and that businesses have plans in place to manage their Level 2 responsibilities to staff and customers.

He was pleased to hear the Government acknowledge that there was a long way to go to recovery and the reference to further assistance becoming available for business.  

“Our member businesses will be looking forward to hearing details of that further assistance, as even at Level 2, some cannot see a way back to profitability.”

“We are also very keen to hear about the Rebuilding Together budget on Thursday, which we are hoping will also be a comprehensive blueprint for the future, including doing things differently.”

Level 2 needed for business continuity

8 May 2020

The survival of businesses and people’s livelihoods needs to now be the focus for New Zealand, says the EMA.

“Only moving into Level 2 as soon as possible will provide the injection that is needed to truly start the recovery and get as many people working as possible and money flowing. We have been bold around containing COVID-19, let’s show the same determination to get people working again,” says EMA Chief Executive Brett O’Riley.

“The number of businesses seeking assistance with planning for survival beyond current COVID-19 restrictions underpins the need for Government to make a quick and decisive call to introduce Alert Level 2 operations from early next week.”

The EMA-hosted business assistance line received nearly 1,000 calls in the past week with around 50 per cent of those calls seeking advice on how to keep businesses running and position them to take advantage when COVID-19 restrictions are finally lifted.

“Comments about a managed or staged step from Alert Level 3 to 2 or even a version of Level 2.5 being introduced is confusing at a time when business really needs clarity. Why announce Level 2 guidelines only to muddy those guidelines by talking about a version 2.5 that no-one knows anything about? That’s unhelpful,” says Mr O’Riley.

“Businesses have demonstrated they understand health and safety and have worked hard to implement the guidelines around Alert Level 3, and are poised to do the same for Level 2. Where there are any deficiencies these have been quickly identified and remedied, businesses are desperate to be able to keep operating.”

“Government needs to trust businesses to operate responsibly under Alert Level 2, as they have largely done under Levels 4 and 3. Delays because the health authorities haven’t sorted their track and trace system or a half step between Levels 3 and 2 will just create resentment and confusion in the community and probably lead to more widespread breaches of guidelines as businesses and the communities around them vent their frustrations.”

National’s support ideas sensible

5 May 2020

BusinessNZ says National’s proposals for business support would help build investment and confidence.

Chief Executive Kirk Hope says National’s proposals for cash grants, low-interest loans and a higher cap on depreciation are sensible options.

National is proposing GST refunds as a cash grant for qualifying businesses that have a 50% revenue drop over two months – similar to the Government’s cash-back scheme which gives a refund if a firm has a 30% drop across 1 month’s revenue.

National also proposes 5-year Government loans up to $250,000 at 0.7% interest for firms that paid more than $100,000 in GST over the second half of last year.

And National would raise the limit on investments that businesses can depreciate against their annual tax bill to $150,000, compared with the Government’s new proposed cap of $5,000, for two years.

Mr Hope said a higher depreciation cap would incentivise firms to make investment decisions and would provide a boost for investment generally.

Cashflow help welcomed by SMEs

1 May 2020

The EMA says its members will welcome the Government’s announcement of the Small Business Cashflow Loan Scheme, which will definitely help some survive.

Chief Executive Brett O’Riley says businesses certainly need the $10,000 for every company and additional $1800 for each equivalent full time employee offered under the scheme.

“The terms of this scheme are very similar to the Canadian approach which we and the other members of the BusinessNZ Network encouraged the Government to look at, and the fact that they are interest-free if paid back in a year is very helpful. We thank the Minister of Finance Grant Robertson for this response” he says.

“Even with other Government assistance, we know our smaller members are really struggling to cover their fixed costs with no cash-flow during Alert Level 4 or Alert Level 3.”

The EMA reiterates though that the solution to the cashflow problem is actually allowing people to get back to business, within health and safety guidelines.

Applications are being taken for the loan scheme from May 12, by which time we believe the country should have also returned to Alert Level 2, says Mr O’Riley.

“While $10,000 sounds like a lot of money, recent surveys by the Auckland Business Chamber suggest it is on average less than a month of fixed costs for a small business with less than 20 staff. They need to be able to generate their own cashflow as soon as possible and regenerate their business.”

“The vast majority of businesses are taking a responsible approach to health and safety practices in the workplace, and we can expect that to continue under Level 2,” he says.

“It’s time for business to start recovering its health.”

The EMA welcomed the move to Alert Level 3, and looks forward to confirmation from the Government that they have trust in the people and businesses of New Zealand to also operate responsibly at Alert Level 2 from May 12.

Time for economy to move to Alert Level 2

1 May 2020

The EMA says the economy needs a return to Alert Level 2 on May 12 to get business back to work and kick-start the country’s economic engine.

Chief Executive Brett O’Riley says what this week at Alert Level 3 has shown is that the vast majority of businesses are taking a responsible approach to health and safety practices in the workplace and we can expect that to continue under Level 2.

“Unless there’s a compelling reason not to, the Government should announce on May 11 that we are moving immediately from Alert Level 3 to Alert Level 2,” says Mr O’Riley.

He says that any extra time at Alert Level 3 will sink a number of businesses that have only just been holding on, with further detrimental flow-on effects for their people and the economy.

“We’ve already seen a number of businesses going to the wall and a significant jump in the numbers of unemployed – we know that more businesses are certain to fold.”

“With no sign yet of any cashflow assistance package from the government we’ll see many more SMEs and some larger companies make the tough decision to close if there is a further extension of Alert Level 3 restrictions, says Mr O’Riley.

“The health arguments have rightly and understandably held sway in beating back this virus and businesses have complied well with Levels 4 and 3. It’s now time to trust them to continue work within Level 2 guidelines, allowing the bulk of the economy to get back underway while maintaining the required vigilance under the health guidelines.”

“But it’s time for business to start recovering its health.”

A quick online survey of EMA members showed that only eight per cent of those who took part did not have a health and safety plan in place in the week prior to Alert Level 3 was announced.

“Businesses are clear on the rules are and have been sticking by them. All businesses have been asked to make a plan, and we know our members are following them. There’s no reason to expect we won’t get the same levels of co-operation under Level 2,” he says.

“The survey told as that businesses are desperate to have customers back on their premises – with appropriate social distancing – because their revenue at Alert Level 3 is nowhere near what it could be and they’re still in danger of not making it through,” says Mr O’Riley.

“Level 2 will offer significant revenue increases for many and also allow other sectors such as retail and hospitality to operate again – but again under strict guidelines. It’s timely to give businesses that opportunity.”

“We welcomed the move to Alert Level 3, and we look forward to confirmation from the Government that they have a level of trust in the people and businesses of New Zealand to also operate responsibly at Alert Level 2 from May 13,” he says.  

Relief at Alert Level 3 but it’s a long way from business as usual

21 Apr 2020

The EMA says many Kiwi businesses will be relieved that the country is going back to Alert Level 3 next week, but there are others who will be disappointed their sector will continue to be locked down.

Chief Executive Brett O’Riley says the Government’s approach to allowing people to get back to business safely makes sense, and its manufacturing and construction members will be particularly pleased.

“This seems to strike a good balance between our country’s health and the economy, but people must be vigilant and stick strictly to Health and Safety (H&S) guidelines,” he says.

“We know that companies with international connections got an early start on some of their crisis management and business continuity, so they’re all ready to go.

“For others, it’s now a matter of nailing down their process to be most profitable with that they can do, and ensuring their plan to keep their people safe is watertight,” says Mr O’Riley.

Another large section of the EMA’s membership, the retail sector, are disappointed there are limited ways for them to work at Alert Level 3 unless it’s contactless, leaving no room for other options.

“Many are confident they can manage with one in, one out policies and other management measures such as registration, and we hope the Government is open to considering this,” says Mr O’Riley.

“It may be that the review of Level 3 two weeks after it begins next Tuesday, April 28, may provide the relief the retail and hospitality sectors are seeking.”

“It’s not a trade-off between public health and the economy, it’s about everyone sticking stringently to the rules, which businesses certainly will for the sake of their survival,” says Mr O’Riley.

New approach needed for economic recovery to begin

13 Apr 2020

New Zealand business needs a new approach from Government to regulation, projects and procurement if the economy is going to start to recover.

EMA Chief Executive Brett O’Riley has called for a new recovery playbook by Government to give businesses the flexibility to recover and thrive, and potentially increase their productivity.

“As we prepare for moving out of Alert Level 4 we have an opportunity for changes to be made that can ‘fast start’ existing businesses and potentially expand employment in key sectors. We understand the Government is up for change and our discussions with businesses point to some quick wins, with sectors like manufacturing and construction poised ready to go,” says Mr O’Riley.

Key initiatives the EMA are advocating to be implemented as we come out of Alert Level 4 include:

  • using fast track and streamlined RMA consenting for shovel-ready projects, with consenting led by the project entities.
  • consent and bylaw changes to enable businesses and projects to operate 24 hours a day with multiple shifts, to speed up progress and to encourage businesses to hire more staff to fill the shifts.
  • reintroduction of the 90-day trial period to enable businesses to trial staff seeking to enter new industries and roles.
  • use the acclaimed SCIRT and NCTIR project delivery models, developed for the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquake recoveries.
  • allow open book procurement by Government enabling lead contractors to be appointed to major projects quickly.
  • bring forward maintenance activity throughout New Zealand on roads, rail, hospital and schools, the latter while students are at home.
  • Re-purpose the Provincial Growth Fund to provide small local councils with the funding they need to kick-start those maintenance programmes.
  • change foreign investment rules and fast track OIO approvals to encourage private sector investment into new projects and expanded production activity.

The EMA has also been working with businesses on developing standards for workplace practices for Alert Level 3 and 4.

“We had little time to prepare for Alert Levels 3 and 4 last month but everyone has had an opportunity to learn from the lockdown, and consider what workplace practices can be put in place to safely enable as many businesses as possible to operate. It is critical we get these guidelines finalised this week so we get businesses fully prepared to restart.”

Mr O’Riley noted that essential businesses have been able to function well during Alert Level 4 but ensuring transport and logistics were in place was critical to maximising their productivity.

Thousands seek expert business advice

7 Apr 2020

EMA Chief Executive Brett O’Riley says an early decision to open the organisation’s AdviceLine to all has meant thousands of businesses have been able to access expert advice and guidance as the Covid-19 lockdown hit the economy.

“Normally only EMA members have access to our AdviceLine, but the EMA and some others in the BusinessNZ network made the decision to open this to any business needing help in our regions,” says Mr O’Riley.

“It was the right thing to do and I know other business-focused organisations across the country have taken a similar approach. Across the network we have taken thousands of calls and emails.”

At peak times the EMA’s AdviceLine team has had a five-fold increase in the number of calls and emails per day since the lockdown began. The EMA’s AdviceLine team are all legally trained and specialise in employment relations (ER) and human relations (HR) issues.

“With far from normal volumes we redeployed our legal and consulting teams to help on the phones, with other staff members also managing call flows and helping with advice where they could. One of our bigger members, Briscoe’s, even offered to redeploy some of their call centre staff to help us,” says Mr O’Riley.

He says issues coming into the call centre have changed as the situation has evolved, with the number of calls and emails lessening, but becoming more complex.

“Initially the calls were just about accessing the wage subsidy and sick leave schemes and questions around eligibility, then there was a high volume of calls from those wanting clarity around “essential business” status.

“Now we are getting more calls around redundancy and restructuring as companies face life with little to no revenue and no sure dates for a return to work. We’re also fielding more inquiries about how to make the workplace safe for returning and essential business staff, which is being picked up by our health and safety (H&S) consultants,” says Mr O’Riley.

The EMA has also continued to offer its member-only services, including its legal, HR, ER and  H&S consultancy, and its conferences, training and events, which have all be converted to online classroom, webinar or e-learning format and are available to both members and non-members. It has also continued to work closely with communities within its membership including ExportNZ and manufacturing.

“We are finding that there are people out there who are encouraging people to take the opportunity to undergo our top notch training while they may have some extra time on their hands as their roles have changed during Alert Level 4, and also to be best prepared for when lockdown finishes,” he says.

Postponement of minimum wage increase only option

30 Mar 2020

The EMA is urging the Government to postpone the planned significant increase to the minimum wage on Wednesday, as employers grapple with keeping their doors open amid COVID-19.

Chief Executive Brett O’Riley says that while it may be politically difficult for Government to halt the planned increase it’s the right signal to send to under stress employers and the economy in general.

The current schedule of minimum wage increases is 20 per cent over a three-year time period, with the second of those increases – taking the minimum from $17.70 to $18.90 – due on April 1.

“We’re taking up to 1500 calls and emails daily from employers desperately trying to keep their staff, and even just keep their doors open, while facing the prospect of very little or no revenue during lockdown,” says Mr O’Riley.

“In some cases they face watching years and even decades of work in building up their businesses come to nothing over the next month, and beyond.”

In particular many of those in the tourism, accommodation and hospitality sectors who are high users of minimum wage labour, now have zero revenue with little prospect of recovering quickly to anything like normal,” he says.

Mr O’Riley says the EMA understands that this is a key policy platform for the Government, but a minimum wage increase of this scale at such a critical time just does not make sense.

“All of the calls we’re taking are on managing the Government’s extensive subsidy programme to help staff through the current crisis and keep the business in some sort of shape to take advantage of a recovery.”

He suggests a delay of six to nine months on the implementation of the increase would be more constructive.

EMA urging businesses to hang in there

26 Mar 2020

The EMA is urging its members to hang in there as reality bites with the first day of the enforced four-week shut down of the country.

“We know businesses are really struggling but it’s been heartening to hear our members and other businesses who have called into our AdviceLine focus on how they can look after their employees and keep the business afloat until the restrictions are lifted and things start heading back towards some level of normality,” says Chief Executive Brett O’Riley.

“While the call volumes have been extreme – up to 1,000 per day compared with normal volumes of 100-150 per day – the bulk of the calls have been around managing the combination of wage top ups and subsidies from Government, and matching Government’s expectations that employers will try to continue paying at least 80 percent of normal wages/salaries.

“It’s very tough and we know some employers simply can’t meet that expectation, but we’re also seeing our employers going to great lengths to try and make that work. They are being quite creative around work-from-home and redeployment options, with some even changing the focus of their production to meet needs created by the national effort to contain this virus.

“While using up sick leave is the first option to help manage costs, we are also aware that employers are talking to staff about using other leave options to manage through the shut-down. Employers can’t force them to use those leave options, but we are aware of cases where staff are recognising the gravity of the situation and volunteering up leave entitlements.

“That joint approach will help see businesses through. Of course not every employee is able to do that and of course there should be no expectation from employers that their staff must give up those other leave entitlements.”

Mr O’Riley stressed that there were other avenues of assistance that have just been put in place for business and that the Government has been very clear it is willing to continue to evolving those packages such as the Finance Guarantee scheme.

“We’re already getting feedback that the $250,000 threshold may be too low and we’re passing that feedback through to Finance Minister Grant Robertson. There are also options used overseas, a furlough system, where employers effectively retain the employment relationship with staff, but stand them down temporarily, giving staff immediate access to social support benefits.

“That means employers don’t have to go through the process of making people redundant and then re-hiring at some later date. Technically your people remain employees but are able to access the assistance they may need and when the upturn comes you can immediately redeploy the staff you know and trust.”

Mr O’Riley said the EMA and its fellow network members across the country had been given essential business status and remained open to offer members assistance through the current crisis.

“Our legal, consulting and AdviceLine teams are all in place to provide support to those businesses trying to work their through this and remain viable. Our focus is on trying to help identify options that will keep businesses viable and in shape to start trading again as soon as restrictions end and we see something like normality returning.”

Extra support for businesses struggling with Covid-19 impacts welcomed

25 Mar 2020

The Government’s massive boost to business support is welcome recognition of the impacts of Covid-19 on the economy as New Zealand faces a Level 4 lockdown says the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA).

The Government announced it will extend the package to all businesses and remove the $150,000 cap on support as the Prime Minister a pending shift to Level 4 measures within 48 hours. That takes the support package to $9.3 billion.

EMA CEO Brett O’Riley said other measures such as a Business Finance Guarantee Scheme and mortgage support were also critical for struggling businesses.

“Many small businesses are financially backed by mortgages on the family home while it appears the Guarantee Scheme will be similar to the package announced in Australia last week. We’ll know the details in the next 48 hours with Finance Minister Grant Robertson indicating further wage and salary support measures may be on the way.

“We were pleased to see support extended to all businesses including charities, NGOs and the self-employed and recognition of the issues facing new businesses and those who have had significant revenue boosts compared to last year.”

With the Level 4 lock down scheduled for a minimum of four weeks the current wage support scheme has been capped at 12 weeks for wage support and eight weeks for sick leave support.

“That may need to change if the lockdown goes beyond four weeks,” say Mr O’Riley, but Minister Robertson is taking and prudent approach while indicating that the Government remains open to revisiting timelines if the lockdown continues.

“Another important initiative for business is the Epidemic Notice as that gives Government powers to cut through regulatory and red tape issues that may be causing unnecessary issues in such difficult times.

 “This is a strong support package from Government with more detail to come.”

Mr O’Riley urged business seeking assistance to call to visit the MSD website or call the EMA’s AdviceLine service which is now being made available to non-EMA members.  

Push the ‘go’ button on infrastructure plans

25 Mar 2020

The EMA is joining the call for Government and councils to push ahead and fast-track critical infrastructure projects throughout the upper North Island.

The EMA is joining the call for Government and councils to push ahead and fast-track critical infrastructure projects throughout the upper North Island.

“The Government included several major projects across our region in its recent $12 billion infrastructure announcements and with the massive impact of Covid-19, now would be a great time to get creative with legislative constraints and push ahead with these projects,” says EMA CEO Brett O’Riley.

“Trialling a fast-tracked, co-operative process between local and central government like the Christchurch, Kaikoura and Viaduct Edge responses would be timely.”

“Projects such as the Mill Rd extension in South Auckland, Penlink to the North of Auckland, the road corridor north out of Tauranga towards Katikati and the road south from Whangarei to Marsden Point could all be fast-tracked to provide a critical economic stimulus in those regions.

“It would also be great to see funding and support delivered quickly to those regional growth projects recently announced for Whakatane, Opotiki, Kawerau and the extension of Taupo airport,” he says. 

Mr O’Riley also recommended an immediate start to Auckland’s third main rail line and the rail improvements from Auckland to Whangarei.

“Both are scheduled to start fairly quickly anyway but efforts should be made to resource up and get them underway along with the electrification project on the rail line from Papakura to Pukekohe.”

“The EMA also understands a decision has been made on the location of the new floating dry dock. If that’s the case we’d urge the government to make the announcement rather than sit on it.  Making those decisions and getting them out to the regions provides not just an economic boost, but a huge boost in confidence for those living, working or looking to invest in those regions.”

Mr O’Riley also urged local councils throughout the region to look at ways they could assist businesses struggling to survive.

“We’re already see significant sized businesses closing in centres like Rotorua and others coming under extreme pressure. The government has already come to the party with tax relief measures and perhaps our local government counterparts could follow suit.”

Mr O’Riley suggested measures such as withdrawing penalty payments on rates and fines, free parking in the central city areas at weekends to try and attract people back into the area and reductions or withdrawals of targeted taxes such as Auckland’s accommodation tax or the targeted central city rates.

“The accommodation sector is under real pressure, as are the food beverage sectors. Measures like these would show support to these and other sectors and ease that pressure on our businesses.”

Temporary measures would solve hand sanitiser shortage

25 Mar 2020

A temporary reversal of a 2017 regulatory change would enable New Zealand manufacturers of hand sanitiser to end a 12-week delay in meeting retailer demands created by the COVID-19 virus.

A temporary reversal of a 2017 regulatory change would enable New Zealand manufacturers of hand sanitiser to end a 12-week delay in meeting retailer demands created by the COVID-19 virus.

Cosmetics New Zealand and the EMA say a short-term reversal of the 2017 changes to Hazardous Substances regulations would see the current 10-12 week delay in meeting orders cleared within a week.

“There is unprecedented demand in these unprecedented times and a simple, temporary relaxation of regulation would enable manufacturers to meet the huge call New Zealanders are putting on supplies of hand sanitiser – a critical ingredient in helping prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus,” says EMA Chief Executive Brett O’Riley.

“Our manufacturers still have the capacity in place to return to pre-2017 production levels in a very short period of time and that would enable us to meet the current massive demand for hand sanitiser in New Zealand,” says Cosmetics New Zealand’s Executive Director Garth Wyllie.

Cosmetics NZ says large grocery retailers are requesting supplies of up to 600,000 bottles of sanitiser but manufacturers are currently restricted to producing just 4,000 – 8,000 bottles per day.

“Prior to 2017 we could manufacture in 1,000 litre vessels but this was reduced to just 30 litres at a time. With a temporary exemption, and close monitoring by the regulators, we could supply these orders in a week and not 10-12 weeks,” says Mr Wyllie.

 “If an exemption is granted we would work with regulators and Worksafe to make sure we do everything possible to reduce risk. We would also ensure products are sold at their normal selling price.”

For more information please contact:

E: garth.wyllie@ema.co.nz

M: 021 649 900

Obligations for Employers to manage Novel Coronavirus

25 Mar 2020

Most of them are concerned about their obligations in allowing staff returning from affected countries to return to work or, if the employee is in self-isolation what their responsibilities are around pay during this time.  

With five confirmed case of Coronavirus in New Zealand at time of writing, the Ministry of Health guidance is:

If you have arrived today or transited through mainland China or Iran, or have been in close contact with someone confirmed with COVID-19, in the last 14 days:

  • We ask that you self-isolate for 14 days from the date of departure or close contact
  • Please register your details with Healthline if you have not already (call 0800 358 5453 or +64 9 358 5453 for international SIM).

We’re also asking people who have visited Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Singapore and Thailand and who have developed symptoms of fever, cough or shortness of breath to seek medical advice by first phoning Healthline’s dedicated COVID-19 number 0800 358 5453 or contact your GP, including phoning ahead of your visit.

The EMA’s advice is to have an up-front discussion with any employees arriving back from affected areas overseas before they come back to work to make them aware of the Ministry of Health expectation that they self-isolate for 14 days. This is not mandatory.

There may be the opportunity to work from home during this time, but if that is not an option, discussions in good faith should be undertaken about other possibilities including using sick leave, annual leave or the employer granting such leave in advance. If an employee is willing to self-isolate then the employer can discuss with them about options of paid and unpaid leave to reach agreement to deal with the situation.

The challenge for employers arises when an employee declines to self-isolate, cannot work from home, does not wish to use leave, and wants to come back to work but the employer says they cannot for health and safety reasons for the 14 days. Generally, if a person is fit to work and the employer refuses to allow them to work, the employer must pay that person for that period (such as suspension).

However, given the directive from the Ministry of Health around its expectations of self-isolation, an employer could arguably rely on this to prevent the employee from coming to work on health and safety grounds and not be liable to pay the employee for the time they are away from work.

Again, in the first instance employers should be working with impacted staff in good faith to make arrangements around self-isolation, and whether paid or unpaid leave or a mixture of both will be used.

The status globally and locally of COVID-19 continues to unfold and the EMA will keep members up-to-date as the situation.

EMA Supports Government to help businesses

17 Mar 2020

The EMA says its members will be delighted to hear of immediate relief offered through the Government’s $12.1 billion business continuity package announced this afternoon.

Chief Executive Brett O’Riley says as a first stage the package, at 4 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), is impressive and will significantly help with business confidence and cohesion in the short term. 

“We’ve been engaged with officials providing input into this over the last few weeks and it looks like they’ve really been listening,” he says.

In particular, $5.1 billion in wage subsidies and the leave payment scheme for all kinds of workers will be most valuable for the EMA’s 7000 member businesses from Taupo north.

“We know many of our members are operating on small margins and facing some hard calls around downsizing, and this will help delay those decisions until the situation becomes clearer,” says Mr O’Riley.

“Our AdviceLine has been running red hot over the last few weeks and the biggest issue has been around leave. Employers certainly want to look after their people but it comes at a huge cost.”

Through the private Facebook group the EMA set up for its members and others in the Business NZ network, it has seen businesses banding together and sharing information and knowledge.

“Nationwide it’s about keeping the economy going and businesses intact and what we’ve seen firsthand is them collaborating to maximise the chances of everyone getting through this recession,” says Mr O’Riley.

In addition to its AdviceLine on 0800 300 362, the EMA is also happy to be helping support the Government’s package by funnelling employers through to the MSD where they can apply for this help.

“We’re hoping that with positive signs such as China opening back up we’ll be on the other side of this when this support runs out, but if now we’re happy to also be part of the solution for the second stage, including helping those who were displaced get back into employment where they’re needed,” he says.