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When Covid-19 hit, Tairāwhiti community leaders ensured the region was at the front of the line and received a $23.755m redeployment package from the Government. It was a big coming together, with huge effort from MP Kiri Allan, and the end result is again leading the nation with the Tairāwhiti Redeployment Programme (TRP) going beyond expectations. The programme has highlighted the benefits for Tairāwhiti when there is community collaboration like this. Diana Dobson talks to those who brought the TRP together . . .

Following the first economic effects of the Covid-19 lockdown last year, Tairāwhiti was the first region to get a government-funded recovery package. A year on, those involved look back at the success of the $23.755m Tairāwhiti Economic Support Package Redeployment Programme, which was funded through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, administered by the Provincial Development Unit and managed by Gisborne District Council.

The people behind the Tairāwhiti Economic Support Package Redeployment Programme have found that after exceeding expectations, the programme continues to have an impact.

The programme exceeded its goal of redeploying 220 workers, with 236 people into work and 183 of those finding long-term full-time employment — 44 percent of those with their programme employer.

The $23.755m Government investment came in response to the immediate effects of Covid-19 on Te Tairāwhiti.

While initially established for displaced forestry workers, the programme was quickly expanded to include those who had directly lost jobs in other sectors due to Covid-19 or were under-employed or at risk of redundancy because of Covid-19.

Tairāwhiti was the first region in New Zealand to receive the funding thanks to a concerted effort from Gisborne District Council, Eastland Wood Council, Eastland Port, local iwi, Trust Tairāwhiti, Eastland Group and central Government agencies, with a massive effort from Labour MP Kiri Allan on behalf of the region.

Ministers Phil Twyford, Shane Jones and Willie Jackson came to Gisborne to make the announcement and recognise the pro-activeness and unity of all involved.

GDC chief executive Nedine Thatcher Swann said it had been a huge effort by all to pull the programme together within 10 days during the Covid-19 lockdown.

“I cannot thank enough the people involved along the way who made this happen,” she said.

“I am extremely proud of our collective effort and collective impact.”

At the heart of the programme was always people.

“The late Annie Aranui, who worked on the programme as the Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner for social development, East Coast, summed it up best by asking ‘how do we say yes to our talent in Tairāwhiti?'.

“This (programme) was all about people. It was about us as regional partners all coming together to help other people. We have had some amazing results.

“We couldn't have done this alone — we had our partners EIT, Turanga Ararau, central Government, local Government and our employers themselves. We all understood our contribution and valued that from each other.”

MP Kiri Allan said the Tairāwhiti Redeployment Package (TRP) highlighted how much stronger the region is when everyone worked together.

“It is a wonderful example of how, when we collectively face adversity, we are at our strongest to respond,” she said.

“The leadership within our region did such a good job to pre-empt what could have been a catastrophe.”

The TRP ran over five projects, involving 67 local businesses. One of the key goals was to give those involved new qualifications, experiences and opportunities, with on-going pastoral care from Turanga Ararau there to support them when needed.

Qualifications gained over the months worked included 42 primary industries certificates, 94 Constructsafe qualifications, 92 GrowSafe qualifications, 137 traffic control certificates, 136 new first aiders, 41 new chainsaw operators, 61 more licensed drivers: 44 through the wheels, tracks and rollers course and 12 more truck drivers.

In all 977 certified training courses were completed alongside valuable on-the-job training.

The key ingredient in securing on-going employment for so many once the programme ended was the real jobs being provided within a commercial environment through the five projects.

The bulk of the non-wage costs sit within the $14.6m re-metalling of local roads project, involving cartage and metal. The project saw $10.089m spent on roading metal, cartage and placement and involved 66 redeployed workers — 16 more than anticipated. Overall the project will provide broader, ongoing regional economic benefits through the resulting wider use of this key regional asset in addition to the project work itself.

The removal of hazardous trees from local roads, which employed 75 people, cost $5.3m; the kaitiaki o te whenua cost $1.11m and employed 70 people; the tree clearance from powerlines, contracted to Eastland Group, cost $2m and employed 25 people; and finally, the $40,000 regional workforce plan undertaken by Trust Tairāwhiti .

Wood from hazardous trees was cut into manageable firewood, with 2900 cubic metres distributed across the rohe to those in need.

People at heart of programme

The average hourly rate for the redeployed workers was $24.12, with the median hourly rate $22.50. Fifty-two percent of those redeployed were of Maori descent with 27 percent aged between 15-25.

The total economic revenue impact of the TRP was $66.8m, while the value added to the gross regional product was $24m.

The programme started in April 2020, with the last of the redeployed workers finishing up at the end of March 2021.

One of those businesses who took on workers was Eastland Tree Care. Co-owner Toni Sadlier says it was a steep learning curve for the team.

“It was quite daunting at the time,” she said, “but they are now our whanau . . . we don't call them employees, they are an extended part of our family.”

Whaia Tītīrangi operations team leader Jordan Tibble said the mahi she and her team had done on the maunga was important for all.

“It is a healing mahi and a spiritual journey also. The growth (from those working with her) has been amazing.”

Work at Whaia Tītīrangi and Te Wherowhero Lagoon, which were part of the kaitiaki o te whenua project, have both continued under other funding programmes.

Programme manager Steve Breen said the benefits from the TRP had been immediate and far-reaching.

“Most importantly, the skills and training of those employed in the roles has benefited them directly through their further employment when the programme finished and to our region in the further upskilling of our local workforce,” he said.

Apryll Parata, former senior regional official for the Provincial Development Unit, said one of the biggest challenges for those on the programme was relevant skills.

However, when people cared enough to help, challenges can be overcome.

“You will find a way through it. That goes back to the commitment that is really needed and really shone through in this programme.”

Getting out and about to see the mahi . . . Mayor Rehette Stoltz (centre) with Fulton Hogan foreman Hayden Stuart (left) and Tairāwhiti Redeployment Programme worker Trent Kake on the Totangi Road at Ngatapa which was re-metalled as part of the TRP. Photo by The Black Balloon
Sandy Te Kani felt being part of the Tairāwhiti Economic Support Package Redeployment Programme would open doors of opportunity to him in the future. Photo by The Black Balloon
Tairāwhiti Economic Support Package Redeployment Programme participants working with the ArborCare Tree Company learning chainsaw skills as part of an initiative that saw wood waste cut into firewood and made available to those who need it throughout Tairāwhiti. Photo by The Black Balloon