Key points

• 78 new cases of Covid-19 – bringing the total to 283

• 27 people in New Zealand infected with coronavirus who have recovered

• 168 Kiwi travellers in quarantine in facilities near Auckland Airport

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• PM says first day of NZ's nationwide lockdown had "broadly" gone well

• Police say they came across people who claimed to know nothing about the lockdown


Workers at companies which have been cleared to stay open during the lockdown say they are fearful for their safety.

Some companies have also been criticised - even by their own staff - for claiming they are essential services and remaining open.

Those companies were risking lasting reputational damage, one expert said, because their approach contrasted so strongly with the "all in this together" approach championed by the Government.

The Mad Butcher was criticised this evening by the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for keeping some of its stores open despite clear advice from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment that butchers were not classed as "essential services".

"Food is essential, but if we simply allowed every food outlet in New Zealand to open we wouldn't achieve what we need to achieve, which is as little contact as possible between one another," Ardern said.

The company had insisted on its Facebook page that it was a "core essential service" - despite advice this morning from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment that butchers were not in this category because they were not part of the supply chain for supermarkets.

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Another company, Crackerjack, had some of its chain stores visited by police today after it opened stores for customers. The outcome of the visits were not known - neither the company nor police would comment.

The company CEO Craig Faulkner told his employees in an internal email that it had permission to keep trading because most of its sales were hygiene, cleaning, food and grocery products.

Some of the company's employees questioned whether it was an essential service, noting that The Warehouse - which had similar products - had not been classed as essential and had been forced to shut stores.

"We are being forced to work during the lockdown," said an employee at an Auckland store, who asked not to be named for fear of losing her job.

"We were told that if we didn't want to work it was okay. Now we've been told that there will be disciplinary action if we don't come in to work. Which is a warning, and eventually being fired."

Faulkner outlined a number of safety precautions that were being taken, including regular cleaning and a one-in, one-out policy.

However, the worker at the Auckland store said she did not feel safe. She had applied for leave for her next shift, and if it was not approved she would resign.

"I definitely have safety concerns. We've been told that our masks will be shipped in next week, which means there is a whole week where we won't have masks to keep us safe."

Yesterday, workers walked out of the Sistema plastics factory in Mangere over safety concerns.

"Those workers were not in a safe environment," said E Tu Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman.

"They can't even go to the tearoom without being shoulder to shoulder."

Newman said the company believed it was an essential service because it made containers for food products. She said this was yet to be confirmed by MBIE.

Employment lawyer Steph Dyhrberg said all workplaces were required under health and safety laws to take all reasonably practicable steps to keep people safe.

Workers had a right to refuse to work if they reasonably believed their work to be unsafe, she said.

"If people were crammed up together on a production line, too close, no protective gear, insufficient hygiene, insufficient sanitiser, someone in the corner coughing over everyone, then I think it would be reasonable to walk out and say you are in breach of your obligation."

If they were fired as a result, they could have grounds for a personal grievance for unjustified dismissal, she said.

Dyhrberg said her office had been inundated with cases this week of employers dismissing people without consultation ahead of the lockdown.

"It's important to note that it's an emergency, not anarchy," she said. "Employment law hasn't been suspended."

Dr Chris Galloway, a senior lecturer in marketing at Massey University, said the lockdown had been a fast-moving situation and he was not surprised that some companies were genuinely confused about their status.

But if any company was staying open for profiteering motives rather than providing essential services that would be "beyond the pale", he said.

"I can understand people wanting to remaining open and provide a service to customers, but this is a case where there is an overwhelming public interest in obeying the guidance of the experts."

Any company which was found to be claiming essential status for dubious reasons would suffer reputational impact which could take some time to recover from.

"This is a time when people are emphasising the need to be considerate to each other and looking after each other. These are national themes which take precedence over the interests commercial interests of a particular business "

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