A cash scheme to help businesses back on their feet after the Canterbury earthquake has ended despite calls to extend it for firms still struggling to survive.

More than 2800 businesses and about 6600 workers hit by September's devastating 7.1-magnitude quake have benefited from the Government's wage subsidy scheme, which covers up to $350 a week in lost wages to employees.

More than $10 million has been paid out to workers through the eight weeks of the scheme, which ended yesterday.

Yet many businesses are still battling to operate without premises or in damaged workplaces, and with fewer clients, almost two months after the quake.

Wigram MP Jim Anderton said he was worried about quake-hit firms in his Christchurch electorate being on the brink of collapse when the rest of country was moving on with life.

Cutting off the subsidy scheme at this point was "short sighted".

"In the end, it would be better and cheaper to try and keep people going rather than dealing with the aftermath of failed businesses," Mr Anderton said.

"Why not just keep it going for a while to help people without the drama of going through the whole rigmarole [of workers applying for unemployment benefits]."

The Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce, which worked with the Government in providing the scheme, said it was always intended to "tide people over".

"If there are businesses that are still in trouble, we want to know about them and we want to deal with them on an individual basis," said chamber chief executive Peter Townsend.

"But we do believe that these temporary schemes have to come to an end some time. And it's not unreasonable to expect that after eight weeks it should be terminated.

"A lot of businesses are still struggling because of a lack of turnover, but that's a different issue. The issue there is how do we excite the community at large to get their hands out of their pockets and get the tills ringing."


Sarah Aspinwall is disappointed that the Government's wage subsidy scheme is being lost to her earthquake-hit business.

Mrs Aspinwall, who runs Canterbury Cheesemongers with her husband Martin, wonders what will become of their staff now that the scheme has ended after eight weeks.

She said it had helped keep their three full-time and three part-time staff going when the business was operating in a greatly reduced state.

The firm's premises had to be demolished after the 7.1 magnitude quake and it has been selling its cheese out of a van, a garage and at a weekend market.

Mrs Aspinwall had gone to reapply to stay in the scheme when she found it had ended.

"I just feel gutted about what I am going to tell my staff now. I'm going to go in and see WINZ, and see what are [the staff] supposed to do. Because we are probably looking at maybe two more months before we can reopen [in a new premises]."

"I don't even know if they will be able to get the unemployment benefit because they will be applying for it fully knowing that they will want to work for us in two months and won't really be actively seeking full-time work."

"We can't afford to give them any extra money.

"We might lose them, and they are really, really key to our business."