About 500 staff in 19 English language schools have been told that most of their jobs will end when the Covid-19 extended wage subsidy ends in the next few weeks.
The eight-week wage subsidy extension, which still supported 372,021 Kiwis or one-seventh of the workforce on July 3, will end from August 5 for those who applied for the extension when it became available on June 10.
Paul Hubbard, a teacher at Languages International in Auckland and father of a 4-year-old daughter, said he and his wife have started inquiring about how to get a mortgage holiday in case he can't find other work when his wage subsidy runs out on August 10.
"It's been a shock after 25 years," he said.
Colleague Andrea Lomas and her partner have moved into a friend's granny flat where they don't have to pay rent.
"We had to move from our flat because we could foresee that we were not going to able to pay the rent," she said.
The English language schools are an extreme case because they depend totally on international visitors, who have not been able to enter New Zealand since the borders closed in March.
But all businesses receiving the extended subsidy must have suffered a 40 per cent drop in revenue from the same time last year. No sectoral breakdown is available, but they are likely to be mainly in sectors exposed to the loss of overseas visitors such as education and tourism.
Some language schools are closing completely. New Zealand's oldest English school founded in 1969, Dominion English School in Auckland, has told staff that its likely closure date will be August 14.
"At the moment we are looking like Armageddon really for English language schools," said principal Andrew Fisher.
Pauline Copland, whose ABC College of English in Queenstown started 26 years ago, is leaving town to look for work in another region.
"I need to find a job," she said.
Her students have shrunk from 45 before the lockdown to six, and when they finish in September she plans to apply to the NZ Qualifications Authority for Covid-19 "hibernation" - a process that will keep her school registered for up to 18 months while it has no students.
Geoff Butler, whose parents started the Mt Maunganui Language Centre 30 years ago, said the prospect of having to lay off most of his 15 staff "keeps me awake at night all the time".
"We have people who have been with us for decades, and it's heartbreaking to think about what we are going to have to do, what they are going to have to do. I don't know," he said.
"I'm about to see 30 years of work go down the drain and I don't know how I'm going to feed my daughter."
But Chris Leckie, who started the Rotorua English Language Academy 27 years ago, said she was determined to hang on despite student numbers plunging from about 120 at this time last year to 14.
"We are fighters here," she said. She plans to "ration" the dwindling teaching hours available, but expects some teachers may have to go on to welfare benefits until students return.
Ewen Mackenzie-Bowie, who chairs ICL Education which owns the Auckland English Academy and Bridge International College, said his schools have more long-term students preparing for further study in New Zealand. Student numbers have halved since February but are still over 250, and he expects to pick up students when other schools close.
"So we are likely to be one of the last men standing," he said.
Stuart Binnie, Auckland principal of NZ Language Centres which has 65 staff on the extended wage subsidy across Auckland and Wellington campuses, said his student numbers have also dropped from a normal 500 to "less than half that".
Cleve Brown and Maureen Hayes, who started Auckland's Worldwide School of English in 1989, have seen student numbers plunge from 220 in March to 70 and plan to make 20 staff redundant when their wage subsidy ends on August 7.
Darren Conway, chief executive of Languages International, gave notice to his 16 staff last Friday, but hopes to re-hire four or five of them on fixed-term contracts to teach the remaining 60 or so students.
He said the sector group English NZ has asked Education Minister Chris Hipkins for $5 million to keep the schools afloat, and is lobbying to bring students back on the basis that they will pay for their own two-week quarantine.
Hipkins said he hoped to meet the group soon.
"I am sympathetic to the impact the unexpected loss of revenue will have had on English language schools. We are actively considering options to buffer the sharp decline in income," he said.
Both Business NZ and the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) have accepted that the Government can't extend the wage subsidy any further for jobs that are disappearing.
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Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope said: "The Government's best response to the crisis would be to accelerate planned infrastructure projects to ensure they get under way as soon as possible."
CTU economist Andrea Black said the Government should boost policies to match workers with jobs in growing areas such as horticulture, expand public service jobs such as teacher aides, and extend paid parental leave.