Essential workers leave scheme established

Leave scheme to support essential workers during lockdown.

Essential workers who take leave from work to comply with public health guidance are being supported with a leave scheme to ensure they will continue to receive income, say Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety Iain Lees-Galloway and Minister for Social Development, Carmel Sepuloni.

A number of essential businesses are still operating, but are facing a significant loss of business. This scheme is for them and allows them to pay those workers who need to take leave due to the COVID-19 Public Health guidance at the same rates as the Wage Subsidy Scheme of: $585.80 per week fulltime and $350.00 per week for part time workers.

“We are ensuring that essential workers have the ability to take leave, and are not feeling pressured to come to work if they are vulnerable, sick or otherwise unable to work. The essential workers leave scheme will enable them to self-isolate and continue to receive an income in these circumstances” Lees-Galloway said.

The scheme supports those who are unable to work from home and need to self-isolate, or are at higher risk of becoming sick with COVID-19, or have a higher risk person in their bubble.

“Not all workers in essential businesses will be in this position, but for those who are, it is a significant problem. For some workers this could be for the duration of the lockdown.”

Minister for  Social Development Carmel Sepuloni says “the scheme will open this coming Monday at midday, and is administered by the Ministry of Social Development.

She says “the scheme is focussed on three groups of essential businesses workers, and employers will be eligible to apply for those employees under the scheme.”

They include:

  1. Workers who are self-isolating in accordance with public health guidance because they have contracted the virus or have come into contact with someone who has contracted the virus (or have a dependent they need to care for who is sick or self-isolating)
  2. Those deemed at higher risk if they contract COVID-19, in accordance with public health guidance and as such should self-isolate for the duration of the lockdown (and potentially longer);
  3. Those who have household members who are deemed at higher risk if they contract COVID-19, in accordance with public health and as such should self-isolate for the duration of the lockdown (and potentially longer) to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to that household member.

Officials are preparing guidance to support employers and employees to discuss what it means to be at higher risk. This guidance will be made available online before the scheme goes live on Monday.

Payments to be four-weekly with the option for essential businesses to re-apply for those same workers after four-weeks, or make further applications for additional workers who are eligible at any time, while the scheme remains open.

Employers accessing the scheme should pay workers at either:

  1. Their usual weekly income before COVID-19, if this is less than the relevant rate provided; OR
  2. A minimum of the full leave rate, if the workers’ usual income before COVID‑19 exceeds the relevant rate, and in that case also make best endeavours to pay at least 80 percent of the workers’ usual income before COVID-19;

Employees who are on other forms of paid leave should be paid at their usual full rates of pay.

It will be administered by the Ministry of Social Development and will be available for online application from Monday 6 April 2020.

The scheme will be available for at least the period while the nation is at Alert Level 4 public health restrictions and ministers will review the scheme after eight weeks to consider uptake and future needs.

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