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Chain reaction . . . 300 East Coast workers cop effects of export downturn

The profound effects of the coronavirus outbreak and a drop in log exports are clearer after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed 300 East Coast workers had either already lost jobs or had to reduce hours.

Speaking at her weekly post-Cabinet media conference yesterday, the Prime Minister said a special Cabinet sub-committee had been set up to get ahead of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

But effects were already being felt in Tairawhiti and other places where the supply chain relied on exports to China.

On the East Coast, 300 people had stopped working altogether or had to reduce hours, she said.

The Government was sending special teams from the Ministry of Social Development to help those affected find work in other fields, such as the Government's One Billion Trees projects or dealing with wilding pine programmes.

However, some of those opportunities are outside the region.

In addition, the Regional Business Programme — run here by Trust Tairawhiti — would be expanded to help the growing demand from businesses struggling with cash flow and, in some cases, paying tax, Ms Ardern said.

Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford will visit Gisborne today to hear from those on the ground about what further aid might be needed.

“The Provincial Growth Fund is funding local roading projects in the area and we're also looking at whether this will provide an opportunity to help retrain workers into an area where there are skill shortages,” Mr Twyford said.

“Our Government's economic response to Covid-19 is focused on protecting jobs and supporting impacted workers and businesses. Because of the underlying momentum in our economy, the Government's surplus and low debt, we can bounce back to the strong level of growth seen before the coronavirus appeared.”

His comments came just hours after Statistics New Zealand released details of New Zealand's daily export trade data

Statistics showed during that time $70 million was wiped from New Zealand's forestry export trade with China.

By value, $180 million of forestry products were exported in the four weeks, down from almost $250 million in the same period last year and lower than projections.

By weight, forestry exports to China (mainly logs) had fallen to about 1.2 million tonnes in the past four weeks, compared with about 1.3 million tonnes for the same period in 2019.

FIRST Union president Robert Reid said the Government needed to look no further than a report from the Welfare Expert Advisory Group when considering how to use the social welfare system to help workers laid off due to the impact of the Covid 19 outbreak.

Mr Reid is a member of the advisory group and FIRST Union represents forest and wood processing workers.

“There has been considerable disappointment in the lack of Government action to the WEAG report on issues of benefit levels,” Mr Reid said.

“This lack of action is also now affecting workers being laid off in the forestry, tourism, education, export and other industries.

“The call from the Minister of Forestry to eliminate the stand-down period before workers can get the unemployment benefit is a good start but will not solve the main problem.

“The WEAG report called for the removal of all stand-down periods for benefits but also addressed the bigger problem that workers, although paying their tax every week, are not entitled to the unemployed (Job Seeker) benefit if their partner/spouse is also in paid employment.

“These days, it's rare not to have both partners in a family relationship working — many have to just to make ends meet — but at the moment if one partner is laid off, they are denied a benefit if their partner is earning.”

■ The first log trains in eight years to leave Wairoa bound for Napier had a short run.

A KiwiRail spokesperson said the Wairoa-Napier log train had run only three times this year.

“We work on behalf of exporters and, over the long term, see highs and lows in demand across our network.

“We are seeing a slow-down in some areas as a result of international conditions.” SEE ALSO STORY PAGE 10

The effects of the coronavirus are already being felt in Tairawhiti and other places where the supply chain relies on exports to China. On the East Coast, 300 people had stopped working altogether or had to reduce hours.
Ships - Pacific Magnolia and Daiwan Fortune