The owner of an iconic Wellington pub forced to close for the rest of the week due to ongoing protests around Parliament says it is the most volatile protest since the 1981 Springbok tour.
Backbencher Gastropub owner Alistair Boyce said his staff was facing abuse just because they were following the Government's mandate of checking the vaccine passes of his guests on entry.
"Because we were following the Government's policy, we were the target, so that ignited the protesters who took exception to it," he said.
His pub is located at Molesworth St in Wellington - next door to the epicentre of the protest.
"I have been the owner of the pub since 1997, and this is by far the most volatile protest since the 1981 Springbok tour," Boyce said.
"We're literally surrounded by the protesters."
He told the Herald since Tuesday the volume of abuse over many hours continued and it was no longer safe to open.
He won't be opening his restaurant until Monday and all of his 25 staff were safe at home.
Boyce said even the members of the public and the bystanders standing on the sidewalk were being abused just for having their masks on.
The protesters called the Government and anyone following the mask mandate "Nazis on masks", he told the Herald.
He did reopen today but more violence followed and the verbal abuse was ongoing.
Since Tuesday morning after the rapid build-up of protesters and their vehicles, bikers, and gangs the intimidation continued online on Facebook and email, he said.
Boyce blamed the Government for its "failed policy" on mask mandates and the restrictions of the red light setting which limits the pub to run full capacity.
"[It's] just a sideshow of Government policy that's gone wrong ... I am probably losing less money shutting the door than opening during level red.
"We are two years into this and we're treating people worse than children," he said.
"It's not just the rednecks and gangs [at the protest] they're all sorts of people and they aren't all violent," Boyce said.
Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said: "The red light settings are very challenging for hospitality businesses. The number of restrictions and seated and separated rules make it very hard for businesses to even break even."
"On top of that the additional requirements such as the use of masks when moving around, are off-putting for some.
"The main issue right now is the current Government messaging which is stopping many people from dining out. This is reducing overall footfall which is making it almost impossible for businesses to trade profitably. Its imperative that the Government puts financial support back in place while we are in the red light setting," she said.
"We have had some reports from business owners in Wellington suffering verbal abuse at the hands of the protesters.
"What the Government doesn't seem to appreciate is that it is workers in our industry who are the ones having to deal with diner frustration as a result of the mandates and restrictions."
Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said the ongoing disruption caused by the protest in Wellington must be brought to an end quickly to support retailers and business across the city.
"Retailers are into day three of disruptions, abuse, and aggression due to the protesters. The red alert level has already dropped sales by at least 30 per cent in the city – this protest has now brought sales down by at least 70 per cent. The entire city is disrupted and businesses are on a knife edge," he said.
"What New Zealanders are seeing on the grounds of Parliament is what retailers across the country, unfortunately, experience daily.
"Retail staff are abused, assaulted, and harassed on the Covid-19 restrictions like the requirement to wear masks in store and use QR codes at significant levels across the country.
"At the same time retailers face the same problem as Parliament – toothless trespass laws that provide no protection for their workers," Harford said.
"Now Wellington is seeing another level of concentrated abuse, and impacts due to these protesters. There are refusals to wear masks in stores, abuse to staff, and those close to Parliament having to close doors. We agree that we all have the right to protest in New Zealand, but this cannot come at the detriment to the surrounding community – authorities and Wellington City Council must take swift action to end this protest to protect businesses staff and operations.
"The city needs a plan further than just removing protesters from the grounds of Parliament. We are significantly concerned that even once the protesters disperse from Parliament, they will then flow out into the streets and continue to impact retailers' operations. Retailers need to see a plan to end this protest, and then an additional plan to support operations in the wider streets in the coming days.
"It is time for authorities and the Wellington City Council to step up and support Wellington retailers, cafes and restaurants. Staff and business should feel safe and have the ability to operate without having to close doors, and take abuse. Put simply, it's beyond belief that supporting businesses in Wellington to be safe and operate is not a priority here."
A long-standing Wellington CBD retailer of some 30 years said: "Wellington is going to hell in a handbasket ... business has suffered significantly the past three weeks under the red level settings and the resulting departure of Govt and office workers. Door counts are down an average of 58 per cent. This has been made worse by the current protesters in the city which has further reduced that to a 74 per cent drop."
Staff are copping even more aggression, which is impacting them personally.
"If all this continues to drag on CBDs will be ghost towns of empty retail businesses that Govt has no concern for at all, and we are very worried."