Huge Hawke's Bay employer Pan Pac Forest Products is shedding $1 million a week and risking international market share in a pandemic shutdown its boss says could have been avoided if authorities had listened to simple principles of health and safety in the workplace.
But general manager Tony Clifford says it's not a case of big-business just wanting to carry on in the interest of profit ahead of people.
On the seventh day of the Covid-19 Level 4 lockdown, with the plant at Whirinaki shut down for all but essentials, he says the health and safety of the workers is the priority, but it's the same types of principles that could be allow some businesses to keep operating.
"Any business that has comprehensive health and safety processes in place and needing to be able to operate should have been able to develop a plan to keep their people safe and be operational," he told Hawke's Bay Today.
He's frustrated by a lack of Government uptake for a Covid-19 certification proposal he put to authorities after the five-week March-May 2020 lockdown, which he says cost the operation $45 million.
He says it's put the country a year behind in planning how to cope with the impacts of a pandemic.
The proposal effectively calls for a Covid 19 certificate of fitness, establishing standards and criteria, with independent auditing, to create a mechanism for individual site approval.
He approached Government agencies and Cabinet ministers, challenging planning for future lockdowns but finding "no appetite at all".
Through the current lockdown he's prepared to leave the issue on the table, but says he wants to take it up again, with support from other business, saying that even if Pan Pac could operate at 60-70 per cent it would be better a massive improvement on stopping production altogether.
He includes the wellbeing of staff as among the benefits, having observed the anxiety of staff worried about their futures, including the futures of their jobs, during last year's lockdown.
"Who knows what the future holds?" he said, adding that from the experience of the past 12 months it's become "easier to deal with the unknown" and planning how to cope with situations that could remain uncertain for a long time.
"I'm not saying Pan Pac has gold medal standards, we're far from perfect, and things happen," he said.
"When companies like Pan Pac close the biggest risk is to market share," he said. "Last year the whole of the world was shut down, but this time the rest of the world is still delivering. We've got loyal partners, but typically what happens, if this goes on, is that they are forced to diversify in the supply chain."
The Japan-owned Pan Pac has employed thousands of people over the past 50 years at its Whirinaki plant, about 20km north of Napier.
It has already marked a half-century since the company was first registered, and Clifford said it hopes in 2022 to celebrate 50 years since the start of production in 1972.
Of about 400 staff, about 200 are working from home. Most of the operational and production staff are not working in the lockdown. Essential work for the site involves security and maintenance around chemicals and clean water, and shipping product out as a port operation measure.
But Clifford said if the lockdown continues after Friday night it is likely it would be shut down "completely" for the remainder of the restrictions.