Primary food processors deemed essential under government's lockdown restrictions, have received wage subsidies totalling about $90 million.

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The Ministry of Social Development's online tool, developed to promote transparency of payments under the scheme, shows that the two major meat companies account for a combined $77.7 million.

Silver Fern Farms and Alliance Group have been paid subsidies of $43.3 million and $34.4 million respectively to supplement wages for a combined 11,000 workers.

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Blue Sky Meats was paid $2.4 million for its 340 employees, Mataura Valley Milk was paid $616,000 for its 88 staff while government contributed $9.2 million across the 1,403 staff working for farmer-owned cooperative Farmlands, a supplier to the farm sector.

To qualify for payments under the scheme, companies have to show a 30 percent drop in business up to June as a result of the pandemic.

It is paid at a flat rate of $585.80 per week for full time employees working 20 hours or more and $350 per week for employees working fewer than 20 hours per week.

The subsidy is paid as a lump sum and covers employees for 12 weeks from payment date.

Silver Fern Farms head of sustainability Justin Courtney said the company had applied for the subsidy during "considerable uncertainty," with global market disruption for products, with containers held up in China, airfreights to Europe cancelled, disruptions in the Middle East and delays in containers returning to New Zealand for future shipments.

He said the focus was on ensuring the company was able to support its employees through a time when production levels had decreased by up to 50 percent at some sites and the impact on revenues had been projected at 30 percent. The subsidy was being paid to the company's 6,161 employees.

He said salaries were being retained at "not less than 95 percent" of a normal pre-covid production day, despite lower throughputs. The company had also implemented a bonus for production staff.

Courtney said staff that were not able to work all due to the restrictions would continue to be paid at a weekly rate higher than the wage subsidy.

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"We are holding on standby and paying staff that are surplus to the current restricted operating levels, so that as we move out of level 4 restrictions through level 3 and 2 we can ramp up operations quickly and address the backlog of stock to be processed."

Alliance Group chief executive David Surveyor said the cooperative expected "at least" a 30 percent decline in revenues over the coming months and he acknowledged the support the government in keeping many of its people in jobs.

Surveyor said the physical distancing rule had reduced the processing capacity of its plants by up to 50 percent, making it more costly to operate the network at a time "when we would normally be at peak livestock volumes."

He said with exports at 95 percent of production, demand in a number of markets had also declined significantly.

He said the application was supported by the Meat Workers Union.

"Our analysis indicates we have saved almost 1,000 jobs to date from early season ending and secured 3,800 others by continuing to safely run our plants, albeit in a far less efficient mode."

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Both meat processors said the wage subsidies would only be used in the way they were intended by government and funds would be reimbursed if they no longer met the criteria.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website