There have been more than 156,000 applications for the wage subsidy in the past five days, Finance Minister Grant Robertson says.
Also in the past five days, the Government has given $575 million to small businesses around the country.
Robertson joined the Breakfast team to answer viewers’ questions.
Are casual workers eligible for the wage subsidy?
Casual workers can receive the wage subsidy through their employers at a rate consistent with their comparable work in the past six weeks, Robertson said.
He encouraged people to get in touch with their employers in the first instance.
If that didn’t work, people could call 0800 599 009 to get in touch with the Ministry of Social Development.
What if you’re a casual worker and new to your job? Or, you’ve simply been told not to work?
“First thing, talk to your employer. If you have been working, even only for a brief period of time, you are eligible for them to apply on your behalf. That’s step one,” Robertson said.
“If, for whatever reason, your employer won’t do that or you genuinely only just started the job moments ago before lockdown, then you do need to get directly in contact with the Ministry of Social Development.”
How about contract workers, sole traders, and people in other employment arrangements?
Robertson said sole traders could apply for the wage subsidy, and that a “big chunk” of the people applying for the subsidy were sole traders.
He said if people weren’t independent contractors, they can ask their employer to apply for the wage subsidy scheme on their behalf.
“There will be some areas where the scheme doesn’t quite work around the edges,” he said.
In these instances, Robertson urged people to get in touch with the Ministry of Social Development, or IRD for matters relating to the resurgence support payment.
Can employers tell staff to use their annual leave during lockdown?
“They can’t. It’s that simple,” Robertson said.
An exception would be if the employer gave someone 14 days’ notice that they needed to use their annual leave, he said. Alternatively, employers and employees can come to another agreement when it comes to leave.
“Employment law still applies even though we’re in Covid.”
How can employees raise issues about their employers given the power imbalance?
Robertson encouraged people to join a union. If people weren’t already part of a union, he said they could still get in touch with the union that represents their industry.
If a person believed their business wasn’t acting lawfully, they can make a report to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, he said.
How long can the Government continue to support small businesses using short-term schemes like the wage subsidy? What’s the long-term plan?
Robertson said the country had the money to continue the schemes.
He said evidence from last year showed the wage subsidy scheme was highly successful.
“We came out the other end of it with an economy that’s performing better than most others in the world. Unemployment is down at four per cent, so we know this approach works.
“The reason it works is it gives people, businesses, the cashflow and confidence to keep their employees on.”
Robertson said New Zealand’s debt level was lower than anyone had expected because of how strongly the economy recovered.
Why aren’t new businesses eligible for the resurgence support payment? How can new businesses access support?
According to the IRD, the resurgence support payment is intended to financially support “viable and ongoing businesses” that have been in operation for more than six months.
To be eligible, a business must have experienced at least a 30 per cent drop in revenue or a 30 per cent decline in capital-raising ability over a seven-day period because of an increased Covid-19 alert level.
Robertson said when designing the scheme, the Government needed to balance making the scheme widely available, but also stop people from creating businesses just to access the payment.
That was why the business needed to be “viable” to be eligible, he said.
For new businesses in operation for less than six months, Robertson suggested looking at other schemes where eligibility criteria differed. For example, the wage subsidy didn’t have the same half-year qualification period.