New Zealand hospitality workers have been left wondering how they're going to pay their rent as their employers leave them in the dark about the government's wage subsidy.

This is despite Jacinda Ardern's announcement on Monday that the $150,000 cap on the government wage subsidy had been lifted, and was available for all businesses in an effort to save jobs.

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Chloe-Ann King works front of house at a bistro in Auckland's Kingsland and says though she's been lucky to receive the subsidy, many others haven't.


"I am a casual worker so I'm lucky I was on WINZ, because I'm getting substantially less in my pay packet/Covid-19 wage subsidy in comparison to part time and full time workers. Without being on WINZ during this time paying rent and buying kai would become very difficult," she said.

"Many hospo workers I know and have talked with haven't seen a cent from their employers."

She also notes that many can't access Work and Income at the moment, anticipating the MSD will be "crumbling under the pressure of Covid-19".

Work and Income client service support general manager Jason Dwen said it was experiencing very high demand "during these unprecedented times".

"Phone networks nationwide are overloaded ... our contact centre staff have been working long hours to meet these high levels of demand.

"As of Friday we had paid out $2.7 billion for 428,768 workers under the COVID-19 wage and leave subsidy."

Another hospitality worker, Luiz Garcia, is in Auckland on an immigrant visa and hasn't heard whether his workplace, The Vodka Room in Ponsonby, will receive the subsidy or not.

"I believe the owner applied for the subsidy since she has another two full time employees who were running the business lately, but I can't get a straight answer from them as well if the owner applied or not for the subsidy (sic)," he told the Herald.


"So I'm left in the dark with no income and no responses even about my holiday pay that I've requested.

"Since I'm not a citizen I'm not eligible to other types of government help."

The Vodka Room did not respond to requests for comment from the Herald, including via Facebook.

An Auckland university student who works for cafe chain Melba Group said he was told last Wednesday that his employer had applied for the subsidy but that was all.

"No further information and our payday is tomorrow and I have no clue how I'm supposed to pay rent, so fingers crossed," he said.

"I recently started uni and have changed my hours but not my contract, and have been offered no information on that as well. The rest of the staff are confused as to what's going on."


Melba Group director Shawn Pope said he had applied for the wage subsidy for all the individual stores last week and the company was in the process of notifying each cafe. The subsidy would be passed on to employees, he said.

"It's unprecedented - people are looking for solutions. It's really important that we keep that connection to our teams.

"Our teams know their customers, they know their coffee orders, it's important we can retain that for when we reopen."

He said individual store owners would be speaking with their own staff on this.

Another worker at a popular Ponsonby bar, who the Herald agreed not to name as she had fears for her job, said she'd been through the same situation as many other hospitality staff.

"I essentially was let go - as in, I would have zero hours - because of the pandemic just days before the lockdown was announced."


She was told she'd still remain on the payroll and that they'd applied for the wage subsidy.

"We have all asked our boss multiple times if there are any updates, only to be given vague replies of 'we are seeking advice', whatever that means," she said.

She said despite seeing other businesses receiving the subsidy after one to three business days, it had been over a week and a half and her employer still hasn't received it.

She says the situation is "really frustrating" and believes the hospitality industry "thrives on exploiting workers, many of whom are immigrants and tourists, and it feels like nobody cares about the fact that we can't pay our rent."

While several small businesses appear to be having trouble with the wage subsidy, owner of Wellington's popular Viva Mexico restaurants, David de Orta Jimenez, said applying for the wage subsidy was an efficient process and they'd received it within a few days.

"It worked really well and it's a big relief for us. All our restaurants applied and got the money. It's something to keep surviving."

He said staff were told upfront they couldn't get their full salary, but were also told about the application for the wage subsidy. Many of his staff were on working visas so the news came as a huge relief for them.


"You have to stand up for your workers. It's a good relief - it's still worrying, but a little less."

A few days ago the government announced tweaks to its wage subsidy scheme.

Those working full-time or 20 or more hours before the outbreak are entitled to $585.50 a week, while part-time workers or those who work less than 20 hours will receive $350 a week.

If the employee's usual wage is less than the subsidy amount, the employer must pay their usual wages.

Businesses were told they must pass on the whole value of the wage subsidy to their employees if it wasn't possible to pay them at least 80 per cent of their previous wages.

It comes after the Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said earlier this month that around 200 hospitality businesses were on the verge of collapse due to Covid-19.

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