EMA urging businesses to hang in there

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The EMA is urging its members to hang in there as reality bites with at the start of the enforced four-week shut down of the country.

“We know businesses are really struggling, but it’s been heartening to hear our members and other businesses who have called into our AdviceLine focus on how they can look after their employees and keep the business afloat until the restrictions are lifted, and things start heading back towards some level of normality,” chief executive Brett O’Riley says.

“While the call volumes have been extreme — up to 1000 per day compared with normal volumes of 100 to 150 per day — the bulk of the calls have been around managing the combination of wage top-ups and subsidies from Government, and matching Government’s expectations that employers will try to continue paying at least 80% of normal wages/salaries.

“It’s very tough and we know some employers simply can’t meet that expectation, but we’re also seeing our employers going to great lengths to try and make that work.

“They are being quite creative around work-from-home and redeployment options, with some even changing the focus of their production to meet needs created by the national effort to contain this virus.

“While using up sick leave is the first option to help manage costs, we are also aware that employers are talking to staff about using other leave options to manage through the shut-down.

“Employers can’t force them to use those leave options, but we are aware of cases where staff are recognising the gravity of the situation and volunteering up leave entitlements.

“That joint approach will help see businesses through. Of course, not every employee is able to do that and, of course, there should be no expectation from employers that their staff must give up those other leave entitlements.”

O’Riley stresses that there are other avenues of assistance that have just been put in place for businesses, and that the Government has been very clear it is willing to continue to evolve those packages, such as the Finance Guarantee scheme.

“We’re already getting feedback that the $250,000 threshold may be too low, and we’re passing that feedback through to Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

“There are also options used overseas, like the furlough system, where employers effectively retain the employment relationship with staff, but stand them down temporarily, giving staff immediate access to social support benefits.

“That means employers don’t have to go through the process of making people redundant and then re-hiring at some later date.

“Technically your people remain employees, but are able to access the assistance they may need. And when the upturn comes you can immediately redeploy the staff you know and trust.”

O’Riley says the EMA and its fellow network members across the country have been given essential business status, and remain open to offer members assistance through the current crisis.

“Our legal, consulting and AdviceLine teams are all in place to provide support to those businesses trying to work through this and remain viable.

“Our focus is on trying to help identify options that will keep businesses viable and in shape to start trading again as soon as restrictions end, and we see something like normality returning.”