Coronavirus: Wage subsidy scheme 'working', but changes could be coming - Finance Minister

The AM Show 25/03/2020

The Finance Minister says the coronavirus COVID-19 wage subsidy scheme is constantly being reviewed amid calls for the amount paid per employee to businesses to be lifted.

Last Tuesday, the Government unveiled its $12.1 billion economic package aimed at assisting workers and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has ravaged the economy and left many without jobs. 

Central to the package was a $5.1 billion wage subsidy scheme, which allowed employers suffering an at least 30 percent decline in revenue to receive $585.80 per week per full-time employee or $350 per week per part-time employee. This would be delivered in a lump sum for a 12 week period. On Monday, following a decision to put New Zealand into lockdown, closing non-essential businesses, the Government lifted a $150,000 per business cap on that scheme.

While that has been welcomed by many, some businesses and employees say the $585.80 per week isn't enough for some workers. National Party leader Simon Bridges said on Wednesday it was a concern he was also hearing as well.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said that about 180,000 businesses or self-employed people had accessed the scheme, with many already paid. Since the lockdown announcement on Monday, 90,000 had applied. But regardless of its success, the scheme was always under review.

"We want businesses, employers to work with their employees to make sure they are developing a plan to use this money. It is an upfront, lump-sum payment, so businesses are able to spread it, keep people employed over this four-week period, move through the next eight weeks after that and come through the other side," he told The AM Show.

Questioned by host Duncan Garner on whether he was saying no to lifting the amount paid per employee, Robertson said: "We are continually looking at it. The scheme is working well at the moment… we monitor it every single day and will take our time over the next few days to continue to look at how we tweak it."

He said the virus was going to have a "massive" effect on the economy, but the Government was there to help.

"What people need to know is the Government is here to look after you through that, make sure you are healthy, make sure you are secure and safe, and then we will work together on a plan to recover the economy after that."

On top of the economic package released last week and the lifting of the wage subsidy cap, Robertson has also announced a mortgage holiday scheme is being worked through by banks, while there would be a freeze to rent increases.

New Zealand has 155 confirmed or probable cases of coronavirus COVID-19. Worldwide, 415,000 people have the illness, with 18,500 people having died of it. 

The AM Show / Newshub reporter Jamie Ensor