20 Aug 2021

Small businesses grapple with lockdown disparity, ambiguity

11:11 am on 20 August 2021

Dairy and service station workers want to be supported like supermarkets, as other small business owners get to grips with what counts as an essential item for online delivery.

Kia Ora Dairy

Photo: Stuart Macdonald

Finance Minister Grant Robertson on Wednesday said the rules for what non-food items counted as an essential item would become clearer as the lockdown went on, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) last night released a list to help in that process.

There is some ambiguity however - the guidelines note that businesses will be relied on to determine which products are essential.

Essential items are those that are necessary for people to:

  • Remain healthy and safe
  • Work or study from home
  • Stay in communication with whānau and friends and remain up to date with news and health information

"We expect businesses and consumers to act responsibly," it said. "Any provision of essential non-food consumer products should be by online order with contact-less delivery only."

The guidelines also included a list of examples.

  • Necessary clothing, footwear and bedding
  • Urgently required white ware and appliances: such as fridges, heaters, washing machines and dryers, vacuum cleaners, fans and dehumidifiers
  • Urgently required cooking, cleaning and laundry equipment
  • Medicinal and hygiene products: such as medication, PPE, first aid products, soaps, shampoos, moisturisers and hand sanitisers
  • Urgently required items for transport maintenance: such as bike and automotive parts and repair kits
  • Materials for urgent home repair
  • Urgently required communication devices: such as mobile phones, computer equipment, modems and internet equipment, televisions and radios
  • Urgently required educational materials and books
  • Urgently required home office equipment

Retail New Zealand chief executive Greg Harford told Morning Report the information - published about 9pm yesterday - had made things clearer, and would help retailers do the right thing.

"It's really good to have that clarity, we've been in discussions with officials for the past week around this and ramped the urgency of that up on Tuesday when it became clear we were going into lockdown," he said.

"It did take 48 hours, and that's led to some confusion in the market ... it does take time to change systems in some cases, the lockdown happened very very quickly and that did catch some retail businesses slightly off guard."

He said there would be some judgement calls to be made.

"What's essential to one person, other people might look at and say 'no that's absolutely not essential'."

Robertson noted on Wednesday that a small number of cases of non-compliance, such as one catering business which had staff in for cleaning and stocktake, "which is clearly not what is allowed" were being referred to WorkSafe to be sorted out quickly.

Dairy, service station workers call for more support

Dairies and service stations remain open as essential services, and Dairy and Business Owners Group chair Sunny Kaushal said they were frustrated at being left out of new Covid-19 provisions for supermarket workers, like vaccine priority and police support.

"We are in the front line but a lot of attention seems to be on supermarkets ... we don't want to be an afterthought," he said.

"There are some 4000 ... dairies and service stations across the nation if you look from Kaitaia to Bluff ... we are everywhere Kiwis need us to be and the dairies are open when Kiwis need essential items and they employ over 15,000 employees."

He said the group accounted for about 17 percent of the spending New Zealanders did in lockdown, and had a higher turnover because shoppers had less choice, which put them at real risk of infection.

They were often performing a crucial service in more rural or regional areas too, he said.

"So, if I may say, we perform an invaluable role.

"We are urging the government and are writing to the prime minister and also the minister of health as well to put frontline dairy and service station workers first for vaccinations."