The owner of an Auckland eatery which got creative to ensure social distancing in its venue has been left reeling after a run-in with WorkSafe.
Ted Waters, co-owner of Howick eateries Daisy Chang and The Apothecary, was first contacted by WorkSafe almost two weeks ago - by text - following a complaint alleging The Apothecary had breached Covid-19 regulations for hospitality businesses.
After the initial text, he spoke to a WorkSafe officer who requested he send photo evidence that the venue had its tables adequately spaced apart. He sent the photos and received a reply that WorkSafe was satisfied.
Then the police turned up at the venue following a complaint just days later.
A day after that, WorkSafe turned up for a inspection of Daisy Chang, the one year-old business situated in the premises of what was previously The Antique Shop.
"They turned up to that eatery and they said 'We're here because you've been reported to have breached again", Waters told the Herald.
After carrying out an inspection of Daisy Chang, Waters said his business partner was told by a WorkSafe official that the business had implemented more pre-cautionary measures than other businesses he has seen.
The experience has left Waters angered by the lack of due diligence carried out on complaints - to determine if they are legitimate, before they are followed up.
He questioned the efficiency of WorkSafe's processes and how it verified complaints after he was given little details about the alleged breaches.
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WorkSafe could not provide details of when and what times the breaches occurred, he said.
"We're working hard to keep people employed," he said.
"My major beef is that any old person can report us - maybe a disgruntled ex-employee or a competitor - and it can set into action all of these people and man hours to disrupt a business like mine."
The unannounced inspection by WorkSafe and the police was "not a good look" and disruptive for the business, which had already been affected by Covid-19, he said.
He was told one complaint was about a customer going up to the counter.
"We're quite a busy place and we've had to put so much more labour on to try and control this thing, and to top it all off - you've got thousands going on a march in downtown."
Waters said he was astonished that officials were concerned with a customer coming up to a counter when they had bigger breaches to address such as the Black Lives Matter protest which saw thousands of New Zealanders march downtown Auckland last week.
"It makes this whole experience such a joke."
Both businesses had been tracking guests via the Government's QR code system and by pen and paper, were actively ensuring patrons don't approach counters and had single servers per table.
Daisy Chang had also implemented creative tent-type dividers between its booth seating, which has received media coverage in recent weeks.
"It just goes to show that anyone can put in a complaint over the phone, and WorkSafe will put all of their labour into action to disrupt what we're trying to do. It is an example of what a waste of time and money it is," Water said.
"All I want to do is be able to sell the best pies in Auckland, instead I'm being bothered by unnecessary time-wasting officials."
Waters said WorkSafe's request for photo evidence that The Apothecary was complying with Covid-19 rules seemed pointless. "If I was violating [the rules] I could rearrange the tables, take the photos and then put them back where they were."
A spokeswoman for WorkSafe said the workplace health and safety regulator was satisfied with how it dealt with the situation.
"Our priority was ensuring we engaged and educated businesses on their responsibilities under Covid restrictions and provided guidance where appropriate," the spokeswoman said.
"WorkSafe received a complaint from a member of the public in regards to physical distancing at the business. After speaking with the PCBU we were satisfied they were following Ministry of Health guidelines.
"WorkSafe has spoken with 21,000 businesses, mainly over the phone, who have resumed trading under alert level 2 to ensure they understand their Covid-19 responsibilities. During this time part of our practice has involved asking PCBUs to supply photographs."
Simeon Brown, National MP for Pakuranga, said WorkSafe's approach "seemed heavy handed" and that he was concerned about how it was "turning up unannounced" to check on the compliance of Covid-19 rules.
"Small businesses such as Ted's are working hard to follow the rules and keep up with the Covid-19 restrictions which are frequently changing," Brown said. "Small businesses like Ted's have sacrificed a huge amount in the fight against Covid-19 and the Government should be supporting them as much as possible as we focus on our economic recovery.
"Worksafe should be supporting small businesses to be able to comply, rather than simply turning up and not providing details of when alleged breaches take place. It is important that this information is shared so that businesses are able to comply and improve practices where possible."