The excuse of no rule book for a pandemic held some water last year. It doesn’t now and we’re paying a very high price because of a government that wouldn’t listen and didn’t learn:
The first Level 4 lockdown hit big manufacturers hard. But when one came up with a plan to allow plants to stay open safely, the Government wouldn’t listen
Last year, after New Zealand came out of our first Covid-19 lockdown, Tony Clifford went to the Government with what he thought was a pretty good idea. An idea which might save manufacturers millions of dollars if we went back into Level 4.
Clifford, managing director of big forestry and wood products company Pan Pac, proposed a Covid certification system.
Government would draw up a set of standards which a manufacturer had to meet to operate under Level 4 lockdown. Companies would be audited independently and if they passed, they could stay open through lockdown. Think of it like a Covid WoF for factories.
“I advocated for it strongly,” Clifford says. “But there was no appetite at all.”
Once New Zealand went back into Level 4 lockdown this week, Pan Pac had to shut down its whole operation.
Pan PAC isn’t alone. A whole lot of other businesses that could operate safely aren’t permitted to, yet a confectionary factory is regarded as essential.
I’ve got a whole mouth full of sweet teeth but I don’t think lollies are essential.
Clifford says he approached a range of government agencies with his accreditation plan, including the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
He also got in touch with ministers, including Forestry Minister Stuart Nash, who also has the economic and regional development portfolio.
“I said: ‘Why not prepare for the future?’ They basically told me there wouldn’t be another Level 4, so we didn’t need to worry.” . . .
If the government and its Ministries had worried and acted on the worrying some businesses which can operate safely would be able to now and we might not be at level 4 lockdown.
Catherine Beard, executive director of Manufacturing NZ and Export NZ says there are other companies like Pan Pac, which could gear up to operate safely in Level 4, but don’t get the chance because they aren’t deemed essential by Government.
“It costs them many millions per week to shut down, although often they have a highly controlled health and safety regime in place – registered to deal with chemicals, for example – and would even create a special worker bubble if they needed to,” Beard says.
“The cost of a shut-down for those companies is disproportionately high and they are working in environments they can control very precisely.”
The more often New Zealand companies are forced to shut down, the harder it is to remain credible in the international market, Beard says.
“Manufacturers often have export customers waiting, and particularly in this environment with a lot of shipping interruptions, if you miss a shipment it’s a big deal.
“New Zealand doesn’t want to look like a country that’s unreliable and expensive and give[s] our international customers a reason to drop us.” . . .
The lockdown restrictions have a flow on impact on the housing shortage:
Julien Leys, chief executive of the Building Industry Federation, is frustrated at the ramifications for the construction sector from the latest Level 4 plant closures.
Last week, before any thought of a lockdown, Leys went on RNZ’s Nine to Noon show and described the situation for the building industry as “as bad as it gets” in terms of shortages of construction timber and other building supplies. . .
That was before the new Covid outbreak. This week, the latest Covid outbreak has shut down logging operations, sawmills, cement factories and manufacturing operations, perhaps for three days, perhaps for a week, potentially for far longer.
‘As bad as it gets’ for home building just got a bit worse.
There are government exemptions which allow New Zealand Steel’s production facilities, Tiwai Point’s aluminium smelter and the Methanex methanol plant to stay open under Level 4 lockdown, Leys says. Why can’t exemptions be given to other production facilities that can operate safely.
“We need to consider what other materials we need to produce, for example structural timber,” he says. . .
Meanwhile, Fletcher Building is also left wondering why its Golden Bay Cement works can’t get a Level 4 exemption. The Government says exemptions to steel, aluminium and methanol are because the time and difficulty to turn the plants off and on again makes shutdown uneconomic.
But the same could be said for cement too. It takes three days to wind down production at Golden Bay and the same amount of time to get the lines up and running again.
Fletcher Building chief executive Ross Taylor says the company will need skeleton crews on site this week to turn the plant off, and would be keen to see some sort of exemption applied for his company too. . .
The arbitrary criteria of essential causes all sorts of anomalies. The criteria should be whether or not businesses can operate safely.
Meanwhile, Pan Pac will wait out this lockdown, hoping it doesn’t go on too long, Tony Clifford says. Then he will be back on the Government’s case about Covid accreditation.
Maybe this time someone will listen.
They haven’t listened to horticulturists and greengrocers:
A Pukekohe vegetable grower says with independent fruit and vege stores unable to open his crops will be left in the ground to rot.
Under level 4 green grocers can provide contactless delivery but cannot open for customers.
Harry Das grows 100 hectares of potatoes, pumpkins, cauliflowers and lettuces for independent stores and restaurants.
He said if lockdown continues past this week he will lose around 60 to 70 percent of his lettuce crop.
“With the independent stores closing our orders will just drop off to almost nothing, the products will sit in the paddock and go to waste.
“We also supply processed lettuce to McDonald’s and with all their doors closed all our beautiful lettuce will be wasted.” . .
Butchers are similarity frustrated:
More than a year on from the first Level 4 lockdown, the rules around essential groceries still seem murky. Butchers and fishmongers can’t open, but dairies can and people can get wine, chocolate and doughnuts delivered to the door.
While at Level 4 supermarkets can operate with shoppers in store buying meat and vegetables, those same customers cannot walk into a green grocer or butcher without breaking the law.
For those small, specialist businesses not set up for “click and collect” or delivery, this means trading ceased at midnight on Tuesday.
Two butchers said they had gone into survival mode. . .
Greengrocers, butcher and bakeries operating a one-in-one-out system, or with phone orders they could package and leave at the shop door when customers arrived for pick-ups would be at least as safe as supermarkets where far more people shop at a time.
Then there’s the problem of what’s an essential item and what’s not for businesses like dairies:
Dairy and service station workers want to be supported like supermarkets, as other small business owners get to grips with what counts as an essential item for online delivery.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson on Wednesday said the rules for what non-food items counted as an essential item would become clearer as the lockdown went on, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) last night released a list to help in that process.
There is some ambiguity however – the guidelines note that businesses will be relied on to determine which products are essential. . .
If customers go in to a dairy to buy a bottle of milk, is the shop assistant going to tell them they can’t also buy a magazine? Is it any less safe to sell a magazine than milk?
This is an absolutely unacceptable level of control freakery that wouldn’t be necessary if the government had listened to businesses with plans to operate safely, had learned from mistakes made in earlier lockdowns and used safe rather than essential to determine which businesses can operate and which can’t.