Processing essential link in economic chain

March 27, 2020

Some New Zealanders don’t understand primary production and the importance of trade:

A number of New Zealanders are outraged that staff at largely export-driven food manufacturers are required to work during lockdown, leading to questions over the fairness of putting employees’ health at risk for the sake of feeding foreign markets.

It is valid to question if all possible measures to keep workers safe from Covid-19 are being observed, but not to discount the importance of processing food for export.

An employee of an unnamed onion processing factory claims staff are required to work throughout New Zealand’s four-week lockdown, despite all the produce being exported overseas. 

“I work in a food factory that processes onions – hardly essential by themselves. They export them all overseas, none go to the local market, but these guys have decided to stay open,” the worker, who Newshub has decided to keep anonymous, told MagicTalk host Ryan Bridge on Tuesday.

Onions might not be essential by themselves, but does the worker want them left in paddocks to rot, does he not want a job when the pandemic is over and does he not want the country to keep up the trade that will be essential for economic recovery?

“I don’t see what good that’s doing for New Zealand in this situation. The directors have decided because they can, because they’re a food manufacturer, they’re going to stay open… it’s not cool, I’m really aggravated by it.”

The employee says the factory has given staff an ultimatum: if they don’t want to work, they don’t get paid. 

“I have to work… if we don’t, we don’t get any money. I don’t really have a choice, everyone needs a wage coming in,” he said. 

If the factory isn’t operating, the business doesn’t get income and if there’s no income how will it pay its staff?

“Everyone’s health is at risk for absolutely no gain. An onion is not essential, especially when it’s getting sent overseas.” . . 

All workers have the right to be safe from disease just as they have the right to be safe in every other way at work.

The worker can ask for safety measures such as protective clothing and masks and for the two-metre rule of social distancing to be observed at all times. But he’s wrong to question the need for the factory to keep operating.

He obviously doesn’t understand his work in processing is an essential link in the chain that starts in the paddock and finishes with export income that will be needed even more now that the country is headed into recession and spending billions on measures to reduce the damage that Covid-19, and the response to it, is  inflicting on businesses, their owners and staff.

ExportNZ Executive Director Catherine Beard says supplying food is an essential activity, and all governments around the world – including New Zealand – are prioritising food production, importing and exporting.

“New Zealand is part of a global food supply chain which would be disrupted if we started putting restrictions on food exports,” Catherine Beard said.

“Food exports are going to help New Zealand weather this economic storm. 70-80% of goods exports are food-related and they are essential to our economy.

“Nor is there cause for concern about working conditions, as food manufacturing businesses are already highly regulated and sanitised environments.

“Employers will be taking extra care about working conditions to keep employees safe, in line with Government recommendations for safe working conditions in a Covid19 situation.

“Any employee with safety concerns should talk to their employer. Employers don’t want sick workers coming to work with even a cold. Employers will be highly vigilant around the safety of their workers as they don’t want to risk a shut down.”

People everywhere still need to eat.

New Zealand produces far more food than we can consume domestically.

Keeping the production chain going will reduce waste, enable growers to prepare for next season, keep people in work, keep businesses afloat and keep on earning the export income that will be needed to fund the economic and social recovery from Covid-19.


Rural round-up

March 24, 2020

Farmers want essential services clarity :

Federated Farmers president Katie Milne is urgently seeking clarity from the Government about what primary sector activities will qualify as essential after the Government effectively put the country into lockdown for four weeks to stop the spread of covid-19.

Milne said she has made it clear in conversations with the Government the definition of essential business has to be as wide-ranging as possible so farmers can keep functioning.

“They are part of the food chain and we need them. 

“The people who do service farming, they have an as equally critical role as us who are growing the food.  . . 

Otago farmers nervous about labour from border restrictions :

Uncertainty over travel for the international workforce is compounding what has been a difficult season for orchardists in Central Otago.

Border restrictions and reduced airline capacity in response to Covid-19 are creating anxiety in the industry.

Summerfruit New Zealand chairman and chief executive of 45 South – New Zealand’s largest cherry exporter – Tim Jones said traditionally two-thirds of his workforce came from overseas, half on Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) visas and half backpackers.

“As a grower, I sit here nervous about labour and we know we use as many Kiwis as we can but to supplement that we employ RSE labour and we employ a lot of backpackers and our obvious concerns are they may not be around in the sort of numbers we’ve had recently. . . 

A DIRA decision – Elbow Deep:

As the world is faced with torrents of horrific news as the pandemic sweeps the globe, it feels like there is little to be positive about. But over recent weeks there have been two small gems for New Zealand dairy farmers.

The first piece of good news was Fonterra’s half year financial results, which are a remarkable turnaround from the Co-op’s first ever loss posted last year. The loss wasn’t insignificant or so small it could be dismissed as a rounding error, the Co-op lost over half a billion dollars which only makes the recent turnaround even more impressive.

At a time of mass uncertainty when many people don’t know if they’ll still have a job in a few months, it is somewhat relieving that these results will see Fonterra inject more than $11 billion into the New Zealand economy through milk payments to their farmers. Those farmers will in turn spend over half of that in their local communities, communities which need money now more than ever before. It’s not just Fonterra farmers who will benefit from the Co-op’s strong performance; independent processors around the country will be benchmarking themselves off the Co-op’s strong performance. . .

Rural sector crying out to recruit more staff – Jacob McSweeny:

While thousands of people around the country are facing joblessness a recruiting company is calling out for workers in the primary sector, saying there were 40 jobs in South Canterbury available now.

Agstaff, Canstaff and New Zealand Dairy Careers managing director Matt Jones said the need for workers had increased as a result of implications from the Covid-19 outbreak.

“The work does not stop — it’s ramped up as some of our clients in the primary production sector increase production to meet New Zealand’s needs.

“The cows still need milked and the crops must be picked,” Mr Jones said.

He said he had a client in South Canterbury who needed 40 people to start immediately. . . 

Post-quake study reveals hort potential – Nigel Malthus:

Large areas of North Canterbury and South Marlborough – affected by the 2016 Kaikoura Earthquakes – offer wide potential for horticulture.

A Plant and Food Research investigation has found that several crops – in particular, apples, grapes, hazelnuts and walnuts – could be grown in pockets throughout the region.

It identified 41,515 ha of land – or about 9% of the total 466,000ha – that would potentially be suitable. . . 

Vets offer Covid-19 advice:

The New Zealand Veterinary Association has some advice for animal owners amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The association representing New Zealand veterinarians says COVID-19 should not reduce the care owners give to their animals’ health and welfare.

“We appreciate there are many issues that people are dealing with in relation to COVID-19, particularly those self-isolating or with family members taking this precautionary measure,” says New Zealand Veterinary Association chief veterinary officer, Dr Helen Beattie.  . . 

Why cradle-to-cradle needs to be included in fashion’s sustainability rating tools :

A review of a leading environmental impact tool for apparel finds that unless improvements are made, weaknesses in the underlying science could lead to misleading results, with potentially far-reaching consequences for the environment.

What do textile lifecycle assessment tools do?

Textile lifecycle assessment (LCA) tools aim to understand, quantify and communicate the environmental credentials of textiles with the intent of minimising environmental impact.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Material Sustainability Index (MSI) is increasingly being adopted by industry but this LCA method currently fails to account for the complexity of the textile industry.

“Several significant environmental impacts and processes are excluded from the MSI and PM, including recyclability, biodegradability, renewability of resource used, microfibres, abiotic resource depletion (minerals) and abiotic bioaccumulation,” said Dr Steve Wiedemann of Integrity AG & Environment.  . . 


It’s raining

March 23, 2020

The government’s decision to put public health before that of businesses can be justified but National’s Finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith says it’s time to open the public purse:

We are facing the sharpest and deepest recession in living memory.

To avoid an accelerating downward spiral, with the mass failure of previously healthy firms, large scale job losses, mortgage foreclosures and serious hardship, a massive economic package is required now. Bring out the bazooka.

The primary economic goal must be to reduce the number of business collapses, and thereby to sustain jobs and incomes.

We’d support an economic response that is bigger and faster than what has been delivered so far. . . 

Businesses which have received help are grateful but a lot more needs to be done to protect jobs.

The primary source of urgent assistance is the $5.1b wage subsidy scheme. This we support. But the $150,000 cap for businesses, which translates to 21 full time staff, means that around half or more of New Zealand’s workforce won’t be covered the scheme.

While it’s true that most businesses in New Zealand are small, the majority of workers currently work for the 5000 businesses that employ more than 50 people.

Just think of a large scale tourist bus operator with hundreds of employees. This business’s revenues will have collapsed. A subsidy capped at 21 employees will be of little assistance.

Our strong view is that the government’s immediate package of economic support – $6b at best – is far too light. 

The $150,000 cap needs to be much higher, so that workers are covered no matter what the size of the business.

Urgent further consideration also needs to be given to the shape of the scheme. The Government’s scheme pays the money with no guarantee people will be kept in employment – only ‘best endeavours’ are required. The British scheme, recently announced, is a more generous payment for employees kept on the payroll but sent home.

The costs of the British scheme will be eye-watering, but some variation of that will likely be the least worst option.

Monetary policy, meantime, is not yet doing anything like the hard work it did during the GFC. The Reserve Bank will need to do more.

There is no doubt that if further dramatic restrictions on movement and work follow, we will have to go even further. . . 

Working capital will be the greatest challenges facing most businesses. The banks are rightly the first port of call. A government backed line of credit to banks to on-lend to businesses in trouble is required now. I know the government and banks are working on this; I’d encourage them to fast-track their plans.

On the assumption that this disruption could run to months, we should also move urgently to start on useful transport and water infrastructure – work that definitely needs to be done against nice-to-haves. We should fast-track legislation to get the shovels on the ground.

We cannot possibly stop every job loss, nor avoid every business collapse. But we can, and we should, do more to save as many jobs as we can.

Remember this is an economic shock created by government responses to a virus. This is why successive governments have reduced debt when they could. This is what we’ve prepared for.

My plea to the government is to focus on the here and now, and move more rapidly to stabilise businesses as best we can to save jobs. The National Party stands ready to help in any way we can.

The previous government was criticised in some quarters for its determination to return the government books to surplus.

The current government has been criticised for its determination  to keep debt low.

Both were preparing for a rainy day and that day has arrived.

It’s bucketing down and urgent action is needed to prevent the flood of business collapses and job losses that will follow.


Rural round-up

March 22, 2020

Farming and coronavirus – Primary Land Users Group:

Currently New Zealand is looking down the barrel of a massive health crisis and equally as bad economic crisis due to the advent of the Coronavirus.

New Zealand farming has over the last couple of years under the current government has been berated, belittled & blamed for almost all of the pollution problems that we are facing as a country.

This coalition government has produced many polices aimed at the farmers of New Zealand that are supposedly going to fix all of the problems that we have with pollution of our land & waterways and protection of our national indigenous biodiversity. . . 

Chinese demand provides cushion – Neal Wallace:

Reviving demand in China is providing primary sector exporters with some cushioning from covid-19 fallout as other countries start slipping into recession.

Having earlier this year weathered the virtual shutdown of China as it battled to contain covid-19, meat companies are seeing improved demand as life there slowly returns to normal.

Government restrictions confined people at home, preventing them working, shopping or eating at restaurants but they are slowly being lifted. . . 

Kiwifruit harvest tougher with worker loss – Richard Rennie:

The kiwifruit sector has been left hundreds of workers short after New Zealand’s unprecedented border shutdowns locked out seasonal workers for good this season.

Kiwifruit Growers chief executive Nikki Johnson confirmed 1300 Recognised Seasonal Employer workers from the Pacific Islands unable to get here. That represents more than half the region’s allocation for RSE staff.

The sector is seeking special dispensation to fly the workers in despite the border closure.  . . 

Young breeders from round the world gather – Sally Rae:

Fernando Alfonso describes Hereford cattle as a “very complete breed”.

Mr Alfonso, his brother Guzman, and Agustin Pineyrua were in New Zealand for the Boehringer Ingelheim World Hereford Conference.

The four-yearly conference, which was based in Queenstown, was last held in New Zealand in 1984. It attracted breeders from around the world for the week-long event.

A pre-conference tour was held in the North Island and a post-conference tour was being held in the South Island this week. . .

Cute sheep the rage at UK weddings – Sally Rae:

Brides-to-be take note. Having a sheep at a wedding is apparently all the rage in the United Kingdom.

But not just any old sheep – the Valais Blacknose, which originates from Switzerland, and is dubbed the world’s cutest sheep, is the breed of choice at wedding venues.

It might not have been a wedding but Abraham the ram was a crowd-pleaser at the Wanaka A&P Show yesterday.

Abraham was the first lamb born from 25 embryos imported from the UK by Motueka couple Lindsay and Sally Strathdee and Wairarapa-based business partner Christine Reed. . . 

Inside Pahiatua looking out:

According to the news reports reaching the backwoods here in Pahiatua, we hear the logging industry in the far North has been hit hard by the de escalation of raw log exports to China. The stockpiles of logs at ports are at saturation point. Cutting crews are unemployed and trucks sit idle. It does not look good for their local economy.

Meanwhile here in Pahiatua things appear quite different. The town has  Highway 2 running through its middle, either  to Eketahuna in the South or Woodville in the north.

I live on the Main Highway at the North end of town and being a petrolhead of long standing, I can occupy my twilight years sitting under my shade trees watching the passing parade. Which generally speaking is an ever changing kaleidoscope of kiwi’s on the move.  I can go to all the car shows and never have to leave home. . . 


Will they pay me?

March 16, 2020
Image may contain: possible text that says 'IF YOU FEEL UNWELL STAY AT HOME'
The message is simple, the need is real.
The only way to stop the spread of Covid-19 is for everyone who is unwell to stay at home.

But what if you can’t afford to stay off work for 14 days without pay?

Will employers pay people who self isolate to protect others?

What if the business can’t afford to do that?

We’ll learn tomorrow what the government is planning to do. If it’s not prepared to at least subsidise wages for people who stay off work when they’re unwell, they can’t expect people who can’t afford to lose pay to self-isolate.

Siouxsie Wiles explains the importance of firebreaks here.

 


Don’t need panic, do need urgency

March 11, 2020

The government has announced some details of assistance for businesses threatened by the impact of COVID-19  but is being criticised for not moving fast enough on the package:

Forest Industry Contractors Association chief executive Prue Younger said she had been warning about the potentially devastating impact of Covid-19 for weeks.

“You know, we’re another week in, we’re another week of our contractors with no substance to staying in business,” she said. . .

Businesses have costs every day, every week. These ones haven’t had income for weeks and each day’s delay makes their position more precarious.

Skyline Queenstown chief executive Geoff McDonald said he was pleased the government was working on an assistance package, but he would like more detail.

“Skyline is reasonably robust, it’s a fairly large, successful organisation so we’ve got some degree of resilience.

“But some of the smaller tourism operators out there are going to be hurting right now and so the challenge is looking to the future and having at least some sort of milestones to say ‘well, if I can make it there I can get access to X initiative and Y initiative’. That’s what we really need,” he said. . . 

Small businesses have little if any fat in their systems. If there’s little or no money coming in they can’t keep paying staff and covering overheads.

This is peak tourist season. Businesses servicing them have lost customers and are losing money. They will already be cutting staff hours, getting rid of casuals and weighing up whether they can afford to keep full time permanent staff.

McDonald said businesses were also being hit with the “double-whammy” of a minimum wage increase from next month.

“We’ve got this challenging environment and we’ve got this sort of ratcheting up of wage and salary bill, so it is difficult. Tourism industry is very labour intensive so your wage bill is such a large part of your overall expenses,” McDonald said. . .

Whether the benefits outweigh the costs of imposing higher and faster increases to the minimum wage is debatable at the best of times. The risk to jobs and businesses when the economic outlook is so uncertain is even greater.

If the government wants more in the pockets of people on low wages it should take less in tax or top up wages instead of forcing businesses to spend more of their own money. It could also pay people who are in self-isolation so they’re not tempted to keep working if they might be incubating the disease but can’t afford leave without pay.

The day the first Canterbury earthquake hit, then Finance Minister BIll English phoned business leaders and asked what was needed. They said money to keep paying staff.

That went straight to cabinet, was approved, and that afternoon the announcement was made that businesses could apply for money to cover wages.

The current situation is different from the earthquake but the need for assistance is just as urgent and the response should be too.

The government is talking about tailoring assistance to individual businesses. That would be complicated and take time.

It would be far better to use the earthquake assistance model. Businesses that needed help to pay wages applied, I think through Inland Revenue, and got it. That kept businesses afloat, workers in funds and money flowing through the economy.

Something similar would be much simpler and easier to implement faster than what the government appears to be planning.

There’s no need to panic but there is need for urgency.


Planting seeds

March 4, 2020

Film showing Inspiring the Future ‘What’s my Line’ made by the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission/Te Amorangi Mātauranga Matua, the Government’s Crown Agency which provides career services from education to employment across NZ.


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