Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has defended payments made to those forced to self-isolate which are below minimum wage, saying they were "never meant to be a full entitlement".
Ardern, speaking after it was revealed two of the latest community cases had gone to work when they should have been self-isolating, called on employers to step up and support their workers to stay home when needed - a call backed by both the Council of Trade Unions and Business NZ.
Two of the recent community Covid-19 cases went to work at Kmart and KFC respectively when they should have been self-isolating, meaning hundreds of customers have been told to self-isolate at home for 14 days.
In light of the latest cases and large numbers of people needing to self-isolate, Ardern called on employers to check in with their workforce.
"Please check with your workforce see if there are any close or casual contacts of these cases or whom have visited any sites of interest.
"Ensure if they need to be isolating, make sure they don't come to work, and get tested.
"Please make sure you access the payments and are able to continue to support workers financially.
"Beating Covid is a team effort and despite our best efforts cases have gone to work when they shouldn't have."
Ardern said there was financial support available for employers to pay their employees, outside of normal sick leave entitlements, so they could stay home when required.
These included the Short-Term Absence Payment of $350 that could be paid to employees awaiting test results and who are required to self-isolate.
Details of the wage subsidy, which had consisted of $585.80 a week for each full-time employee and $350 for part-time employees, would be made available later this week.
Meanwhile, payments of the same amount were also available under the Leave Support Scheme to employees required to self-isolate and who could not work from home.
The current entitlement of $585.80 a week - before tax - was nearly $200 below minimum wage ($753), which was one of the options given in a Cabinet paper on the scheme in March last year.
The payment is also roughly the median rental price in Auckland, meaning if an infected worker was the sole earner in a household it would leave little to no money after housing costs.
Despite this, Ardern said there were no intentions to increase payment levels.
"We have a system where when a worker is sick the obligation is on the employer, but we don't want any reason for anyone not to stay at home [when required].
"So we have taken the unusual step of essentially paying sick pay - it was never meant to be a full entitlement."
While she had noted comments from the Council of Trade Unions with concerns about employees accessing payments, she said there had been no "sustained feedback" from employers.
The latest data from the Ministry of Social Development, to February 19, showed it had approved 1206 Short-Term Absence Payment applications at $483,700.
It had also approved 2826 applications for the Leave Support Scheme, at $19.2 million.
The CTU and Business New Zealand today called on all workplaces to play their part in ensuring New Zealand beat the latest Covid-19 outbreak and helped minimise risk of future outbreaks.
"We need to work together so that isolation is not only the right thing to do, but also the easy thing to do," CTU president Richard Wagstaff said.
"Workplaces must communicate this message so that everyone knows what's expected of them. There should be no disadvantage or penalty of any kind for shielding others from Covid-19."
Wage support systems in place:
• The Short-Term Absence Payment - $350 per eligible worker - is available for businesses, including self-employed people, to help pay their workers who cannot work from home while they wait for a Covid-19 test result.
• If someone is off sick with Covid-19, caring for someone with Covid-19, or have been required to self-isolate because of Covid-19, the Leave Support Scheme is available for employers, including self-employed people, to help pay their employees who need to self-isolate and can't work from home. The scheme is paid as a lump sum and covers two weeks per eligible employee, up to $1176.60 for people who were working 20 hours or more per week.
• The Resurgence Support Payment is to help support viable and ongoing businesses or organisations due to a Covid-19 alert level increase to level 2 or higher. Eligible businesses and organisations can apply to receive the lesser of $1500 plus $400 per full-time equivalent (FTE) employee, up to a maximum of 50 FTEs, or four-times the actual revenue drop experienced by the business.
• Information will be available this week about a Wage Subsidy for employers and self-employed people impacted by Covid-19.
• There are also a range of supports for businesses during Covid-19 from Inland Revenue, and supports for business and families from the Ministry of Social Development.