OPINION: Small businesses need two stages of assistance to survive and thrive as the country, and Auckland in particular, push its way through current Covid restrictions and hopefully come out of it soon.
The pressing issue now is assistance to those currently struggling with varying degrees of foreclosure. The government was quick to reinstate the wage subsidy and resurgence payment programs, but neither provides comprehensive coverage for businesses and employers and the longer the lockdowns, the worse the situation s ‘worsen.
The EMA would like to see the resurgence payment program shift to weekly payments and have the revenue loss threshold lowered to 30% or even less, as some businesses, especially those located inside the border of Auckland, but with operations across the country, are struggling to meet the current 40 percent threshold.
It is also problematic that companies receive the same subsidy whether their revenues are down 40% or 100%.
Of course, ideally we will go back to at least level 1, level 2 remains too restrictive on trade for several sectors of the economy, and when that happens, companies that have managed to hang on to the current crisis will have also need help to continue.
One of the unfortunate truisms of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) was that many small traders managed to survive GFC, only to collapse as the situation improved, but they were unable to take advantage of recovery.
The first priority in handling the removal of Covid restrictions would be some clarity and advice from the government on how we will get there.
Vaccinations and the widespread use of rapid nasal, saliva and antigen tests are the keys to opening and running a safe business. But what level of vaccination does it take to reopen the Auckland border and / or allow the freer movement of people, skills and goods in New Zealand?
This movement is essential to the success of so many small businesses.
The EMA wants people who double-bite with negative tests to be allowed to cross the border now if it’s for work. Does an 80-85% vaccination rate mean we can open the Auckland border, is 90% the goal of opening up the country and will high vaccination rates mean a no? -back to level 4 or even level 3 lock?
What is the timeframe to meet these goals so that small businesses can see and manage how long they need to hang on?
And small businesses, in particular, need to know how they are going to deal with the mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated staff, clients and service personnel who regularly enter their workplace.
The current risk assessment approach that the government recommends for businesses may work well for companies with the time and resources to assess a mandatory vaccination policy or mandatory passport for vaccines in their workplace. .
But small businesses don’t have that resource or that ability, and taking a risk-based approach also runs the risk of being wrong and being the subject of a personal grievance.
The EMA and other business groups are trying to advise our members on the management of vaccinations in the workplace. But really, the government needs to take the lead in providing a framework that employers can use to manage their obligations as a PCBU under health and safety law while managing the rights inherent in the Bill of Rights, human rights and privacy legislation.
We would also like to see an enhanced regional trading partner package to help small businesses when the recovery begins.
RBP is a program that gives small businesses vouchers to pay for access to advisors who can help them manage or restructure their finances, help with marketing, and digitize the business and its processes to make them more efficient. It could also be used to pay for expert advice on managing Covid in the workplace.
All of these things are very effective in getting a small business to manage the economic recovery.
What most small businesses desperately need is certainty in a very uncertain world.
Knowing what additional help, if any, might be available in the short and long term is an essential part of this.
But so does a path that shows that if we hit certain milestones within certain time frames, businesses can revert to something that feels like more normal operation.
Macroeconomic figures that show the country is doing better than expected obscure what is happening at the small end of the corporate ladder.
It is already too late for many, and many more will continue to fall by the wayside as the blockages continue.
Get vaccinated is the biggest help for businesses now.
Melanie McKay is responsible for advocacy and strategy at EMA.