'Desperate need' to help Wellington workers after quakes

By Frances Cook

The Government's being urged to extend its earthquake support, to also help the thousands of Wellingtonians out of work.

With businesses and offices evacuated throughout the capital, many part-time, casual, and temp workers have found themselves suddenly out of a job.

Unite Union estimates tens of thousands of workers are affected.

Insurance Council CEO Tim Grafton said most personal income protection schemes apply to health events, rather than natural disaster, leaving employees reliant on their workplace to have proper insurance cover.

But while many businesses are covered for damage or being physically unable to access the building, very few will have a policy to protect their income in an empty city, where customers have dried up.

"If you're business is not damaged, and it's highly unlikely you've taken out contingent business interruption insurance, then you're not covered for that event."

Business owners needed to accept they had a high risk of earthquakes, and prepare to face the reality of needing to pay staff and keep going through tough times, he said.

"In Canterbury about a billion dollars worth of insurance was paid in business interruption. That money would have enabled businesses to pay their employees, and keep themselves and their families fed and watered.

"But that only applied to those who had physical damage."

Labour's employment spokesperson Grant Robertson said there is now a "desperate need" for National to extend the support package it gave to Kaikoura.

"I think everyone would agree that the priority has been helping those people in Kaikoura adjust to the situation.

"But we've now got a situation in Wellington where many people are not going to be able to work for several weeks, businesses are not going to be able to operate for weeks or even months."

Robertson wants the Government to set up a fund to help those who've lost their income after the earthquake. He said there should be set criteria, that allows anyone throughout New Zealand to apply.

"They need to do that here in Wellington because we've got a large number of people whose lives have been turned upside down.

"We've got people shut out of premises completely. And then we've got those areas where big office buildings are shut, and their customer base has disappeared.

"So there are people affected all the way through, from the coffee makers to the business owners. They need some certainty, they need some security, that's where the Government has to step in."

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said anyone whose employment is significantly affected by the Kaikoura earthquake should get in touch with the Ministry of Social Development, using the helpline 0800 779 997.

"The numbers of businesses directly affected by the current cordons in Wellington is quite small. However we are constantly assessing and re-assessing the impact of the earthquakes and what is needed."

- NZ Herald

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