Filipino carpenter Andrew Doromal's net income has dropped from $1200 a week to $494, and he doesn't know how he can now keep his family alive.

Doromal, 39, who has been helping to build Auckland's tallest office tower Commercial Bay, is one of the lucky ones because he still has some income even though his work site has closed in the lockdown. Many workers have lost their jobs completely.

But his only income is the Government's Covid-19 job subsidy of $585 a week before tax, which works out at $494 after paying tax, ACC levies and insurance.

He is the sole income earner for his wife and three children aged 11 to 16 in the Philippines, sending them about $400 a week.

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But suddenly he is getting only enough to pay his $160-a-week rent for a room in a Mt Wellington house that he shares with six other migrant workers, and bills such as power, water and internet.

"I can't afford to buy my food," he said.

"My family in the Philippines need support from me because of this pandemic issue. The situation in the Philippines is much worse than here. All of the Philippines is in lockdown.

"I am also helping my three brothers and one sister because there is no work in the Philippines. There is a welfare system but the biggest problem is the budget because the Philippines Government is also struggling."

Doromal, who said he is one of about 800 Filipinos employed by labour-hire company Extrastaff, is one of 642,000 workers whose employers were paid the wage subsidy by March 31 - a total of $4.1 billion.

Andrew Doromal used to send $400 out of his $1200 net weekly pay back to his wife and three children in the Philippines, now he doesn't know how they will survive. Photo / Supplied
Andrew Doromal used to send $400 out of his $1200 net weekly pay back to his wife and three children in the Philippines, now he doesn't know how they will survive. Photo / Supplied

Some big employers are topping up the subsidy. First Union retail secretary Tali Williams said The Warehouse group, Kmart, Bunnings and H&M are all taking the wage subsidy and still topping people's wages up to their normal pay for now, although they will review it in one to three weeks.

Farmers, Mitre 10 and Cotton On have applied for the subsidy and promised to top up workers' pay to 80 per cent of their previous wages. Cotton On has offered an option to cash up annual leave to add back the other 20 per cent of their normal wages. Sky City has also done this.

But Fletcher Building said today that it would cut pay for employees not working to an average of 80 per cent of their normal base pay for the next four weeks; then 50 per cent in the next four weeks and only 30 per cent of normal pay in the last four weeks of the 12-week wage subsidy period.

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A worker in another large retail chain received a letter saying that fulltime workers would be paid only the $585 a week before tax, but could use their time in lieu, annual leave and long service leave to top up their wages to normal rates from March 25 to April 7. Decisions beyond that are still to come.

First Union manufacturing and transport secretary Jared Abbott said the union accepted the use of annual leave to top up the subsidy if an employer genuinely can't afford to pay more, as long as it was done by agreement.

"Everyone is doing it hard," he said. "Our ideal is to pay the full 100 per cent but we have a lot of companies where that is not something that they can afford."

• Official advice: covid19.govt.nz.

Wage subsidy Q&A

Q. What is the wage subsidy?

A.

It's $585.80 a week gross for anyone working at least 20 hours a week or $350 gross for below 20 hours. The $585.80 is the same as the maximum rate of paid parental leave and is 55 per cent of the average wage.

It's paid to employers in an upfront lump sum for all workers whose employers promise to keep them employed for at least the next 12 weeks, and to self-employed people.

In turn, employers must use their "best endeavours to pay at least 80 per cent of each named employee's ordinary wages", and must pay at least the full subsidy to their workers, or their full usual pay if they usually earned less than the subsidy.

Q. Who can get it?

A. Any business that has had at least a 30 per cent decline in actual or predicted revenue compared to the same month last year because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Employees named in the application must all be working legally in NZ as citizens, residents or temporary visas.

Q. What about casual workers?

A. Employers can get the subsidy for casual workers who "are employed by you at the time you apply and who would have been expected to work during the time you will receive the wage subsidy". The subsidy will be based on average hours worked in the time they have worked for the employer, or over the past year.

Q. Can employers cut wages to make up for lost revenue?

A. Not unless the workers agree. The wage subsidy provisions don't affect normal employment law, which still requires consultation with employees before making any change to their pay or conditions, including annual leave.

Employers and Manufacturers Association legal head Matthew Dearing says annual leave is supposed to be taken by agreement, but if there is no agreement an employer can give 14 days' notice that an employee has to take leave that they are entitled to.

However the employer cannot require a worker to take leave that they are not yet entitled to, for example when they have been working in the business for less than a year.

• More information: Work and Income.