Opinion | Government’s Mixed Messages Cause More Mayhem

While Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, urged people to go to work to support surrounding hospitality and retail outlets, workers at New Zealand’s biggest businesses and government departments are being encouraged to work from home.

When the country moved into the red traffic light setting on January 23, both the Prime Minister and Grant Robertson stressed it was not a lockdown. At the time Jacinda Ardern said, “at red, businesses stay open, and you can do most of the things that you normally do, including visiting family and friends and moving around the country’’.

Under ‘phase two' of its response to Omicron, the government is aiming to reduce the amount of disruption caused by spiralling numbers of cases, but retailers, restaurants and other hospo businesses are struggling with a dramatic decline in customers.

Many chief executives and employers across a range of sectors from public service to banking, law firms to communications companies and more are telling their staff to work from home in the red setting.

Some of that is driven by a desire to reduce contact with colleagues and therefore avoid spread if there were a positive Covid case identified within the business, and for others, it is a personal preference not to leave home.

Robertson’s opinion seems to be, people will do what they do – not exactly helpful. He reiterated that if people are wearing a mask and exercising social distancing it is safe to be out and about.

“We keep encouraging people to do that, ultimately though, people will behave in line with their own views and beliefs.’’

That's all very well, but when businesses are down 40-80% it's cold comfort. When there was this level of decline under previous waves of COVID-19, the Government provided wage subsidies, now we can't even get RATs to monitor staff.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the country, cafés and restaurants are trying their best to stay afloat while adhering to mandate rules, only to have the Southern District Health Board share a message of warning to possible patrons, asking Southerners to be aware that bars, cafes and restaurants are considered “high risk settings”.

The Invercargill Licensing Trust, which is losing up to 40 percent revenue in its bars and restaurants, has expressed frustration at this messaging. Licensing trust chief executive Chris Ramsay said the hospitality sector had been negatively impacted by the Covid red light setting, and the health board’s comments did nothing to assist the industry and the wellbeing of its staff.

It’s exactly these mixed messages that are further damaging an industry that is already on the brink of collapse. Do the government and the ministry of health want people staying home to stop the spread or going out to support local businesses?

No one seems to want to acknowledge that for every cafe, restaurant, bar or tourism business there is a swathe of businesses upstream that supply them, from ingredients, products, tech, packaging, services and many more. They also rely on hospo staying open to keep their workers employed. These businesses along with the hospo outlets are in the firing line for closure. Next time you grab a coffee, beer or burger consider what goes into getting it into your hands.

With such weak leadership from the government and no one voice delivering a unified message, it’s no wonder business owners are so frustrated.

It’s only a matter of time before hospitality’s pressure pot boils over as mutterings of a no-confidence vote abound. Time to kick the inexperienced to the curb and let those who have experience in business take over. And no they won't need to hire consultants and form a committee to know what to do!