OPINION: Rural NZ is again getting the rough end of the stick when it comes to services - this time in relation to Covid-19 vaccinations.
These critics claim meat companies were granted a total of $101 million in support, despite being an essential service and continuing to work on during the lockdown.
However, National secretary of the NZ Meatworkers Union Daryl Carran told Rural News the wage subsidy was a ‘no brainer’. He says it saw many millions of dollars paid out to workers and their families during the crisis.
“Without it, hundreds even thousands of meat workers would have been laid off – swelling the queues at foodbanks and WINZ offices around the country,” he says. “It was absolutely crucial to the industry’s future that these people are retained in the sector.”
Carran says the union worked closely with meat companies and the Meat Industry Association when preparing their applications for the subsidy.
“COVID had a substantial impact on production output, especially for sheep and lamb,” he explained. “In some plants it fell as low as 30% of usual daily output during Level 4.”
Carran added that the subsidy allowed older workers, those with underlying health issues and single parents to still be paid when they could not come to work.
“Without [the subsidy] these people would have been given early season termination notices and ended up on the dole, which many would not have qualified for if they had a spouse who works as well.”
ANZCO chief executive Peter Conley told Rural News his company had claimed subsidies of $18.8m for 2,679 employees.
He says it was all done in accordance with the Government’s guidelines and the company will repay any funds that don’t meet the required criteria.
“At the time of applying for the subsidy, we faced unprecedented operating circumstances and had to move quickly to protect all employees by providing a safe working environment, as well as providing employees with financial security and retaining jobs.
During the period ANZCO paid employees who were available to work and those who couldn’t: those isolating because of COVID-19; those who weren’t working because they are older than 70; those with vulnerable conditions; and those who were caring for those with vulnerable conditions.
Conley says of the company’s total workforce of 2,679 more than 600 employees were unable to work during lockdown. He added that the company had incurred significant costs in implementing the new processing requirements.
He says three of its businesses were unable to operate, including its wholesale butchery, hamburger patty manufacturing business and beef Jerky operations.
“ANZCO Foods is fully prepared to be audited about its use of the subsidy once the company has worked through all the challenges COVID-19 has created and can assess and understand the full impact on the business.”
Alliance Group chief executive David Surveyor told Rural News the company had been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We applied for the wage subsidy in accordance with the purpose of the Government’s policy, to keep people in jobs and preserve income. The subsidy went directly to our people.
“The company consulted with the Meat Workers Union, which supported our application. The wage subsidy saved almost 1,000 jobs from early season termination and secured 3,800 others. The importance of this for our people and their families is not something we take lightly.”
Surveyor says if Alliance does not experience the forecast 30% revenue reduction set by government, the subsidy will be returned.
“However, we will have incurred millions of dollars in costs to keep people in jobs and preserve incomes. The easy approach would have been to terminate jobs and save the cost. We decided to take on the financial risk and look after our people.”
Carran believes any surplus monies should go back, but says the union believes the Government should look at exactly how the meat industry was adversely affected by COVID and adjust its criteria.
“Some companies may not meet the 30% reduction in revenue criteria, but the fact is if it weren’t for the subsidy workers would have been laid off.”
He pointed out that workers still got full pay even when most plants were only operating at about 50% of the daily production during this time.