Christmas is coming early for Red Stag Timber staff and contractors with $3000 bonuses for those who get vaccinated and stay up to date with booster shots next year.
The Rotorua-based company is paying the bonuses after being on track to achieve budgets without the need for last year's wage subsidy.
"We decided to give it back and figure our staff will put it to better use locally than central government," Reg Stag Timber Group chief executive Marty Verry said.
The $2000 bonus this December and $1000 next December was tied to vaccination status.
"Obviously we want all our staff, their families and work colleagues to be safe and have as much protection from Covid as possible," Verry said.
"But equally we are conscious that there are dozens of merchant clients and thousands of tradespeople downstream from Red Stag that rely on its structural timber to keep building next year.
"New Zealand needs us to keep producing. You could say we are using this bonus to try to put the fence at the top of the cliff, and prevent Covid in the workforce, rather than having to react to shutdowns," Verry said.
"There is also the matter of inflation, which is running hot. We want to help staff get through this hump and have a great Christmas. It's been a fairly tumultuous year and the team have gone above and beyond to work overtime to keep up with market needs. They deserve it."
Red Stag Timber operates the Southern Hemisphere's largest sawmill in Rotorua, employing approximately 400 staff and permanent contractors.
Red Stag said it was conscious of its role as the largest private employer in the Rotorua district where vaccination rates were low and many businesses had been severely affected by the lack of international tourism.
"If we can trigger higher vaccine protection and get more funds into the community, we can help get Rotorua to an orange or green light in December and support the local economy."
Verry said he believed the Government needed to abandon the "now-defunct MIQ system".
"With just four people returning to New Zealand last week having Covid, and 85 per cent accuracy rates for rapid antigen tests if used on arrival, it's highly improbable anyone with Covid will slip through those layers of protection.
"If one does, they enter a country with thousands of cases already and what will be a 90 per cent vaccination rate by January," he said.
Verry's comments came just hours before the Government announced major MIQ changes from earlier next year.
This included fully vaccinated Kiwis and other eligible visitors being able to travel from Australia without having to quarantine from January 16, and foreign nationals from April 30 onwards.
"This does not mean the end of MIQ as a system, which was always intended to be temporary at this scale and has served us incredibly well - with more than 190,000 people brought home since our borders closed in March 2020," Covid 19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said.
"There will continue to be a role for it in the foreseeable future."
Rotorua Chamber of Commerce chief executive Bryce Heard applauded Verry's move to reward staff who got fully vaccinated.
Heard said the question of whether the MIQ system should be abandoned was something he had no opinion about as it was a significant health issue.
"On this issue, I prefer to defer to the medical experts."