5 Aug 2022

Covid-19 and winter illnesses: Stats NZ figures show more employees away from work

6:08 pm on 5 August 2022

One hotel boss has called the endless staff shortage due to sickness as the worst he has ever seen and the latest national figures back that up.

Close up Sick Young Office Lady at her Desk Sneezing Into a White Tissue with Eyes Closed.

Rees Hotel and Luxury Apartments in Queenstown chief executive Mark Rose says he had to work a 78-hour week at one point because there wasn't enough staff. (File image) Photo: 123RF

The country's work force has been stretched over the past few months as Covid-19 cases and winter illnesses dramatically increase.

Week-long absences due to sickness has become the norm over the past few months amid the Omicron outbreak.

The Rees Hotel and Luxury Apartments in Queenstown has had about 15 percent of its housekeepers off over winter.

Chief executive Mark Rose said the hotel got through Covid-19, only for a throng of staff to be struck down with influenza.

"Most of our team have had Covid about a month ago but since then the influenza has been ripping through the place," he said.

"The front office at one stage, every second person was off with the flu ... and it's a really bad one.

"People are off for multiple days."

The situation meant management had to roll their sleeves up and take on other duties.

"I worked a 78-hour week, I did 10 shifts of washing dishes, and I was doing house-keeping and driving the shuttle," Rose said.

"All of our management have been dropping everything they're doing, stripping rooms, just whatever it takes."

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SkyCity's Claire Walker says it has been challenging with an increase in staff away sick, but they don't want people working while they're unwell. Photo: Supplied / SkyCity

At SkyCity, there was a 75 percent increase in staff sicknesses compared to 2019.

Chief of people and culture Claire Walker said seasonal flu had made things challenging.

"We're currently staggering opening times and we have reduced operating hours at some of our venues, as we try and ensure we have the staffing needed," she said.

"Obviously it's challenging but we do need to encourage employees who are sick not to come to work."

Stats NZ said for the quarter ending June, about 55,000 people had cited illness as the reason for being off work for a week, about double the numbers seen last year.

About 60,000 were away or working fewer hours due to holidays in the quarter ending June 2022.

General manager for insights and populations Sean Broughton said more people were working less.

"We had over 90,000 people who were at their main job but were working reduced hours due to sickness ... that's up 40 percent annually."

Health New Zealand said navigating Covid-19 cases along with winter illnesses was likely to continue over the coming weeks.

"For the first time, New Zealand is currently managing a high prevalence of Covid-19 cases alongside the annual influenza season as well as an increase in other winter illnesses," a spokesperson said.

"We have seen some encouraging signs in Covid-19 numbers in recent weeks, but we aren't out of the woods yet.

"Case numbers continue to be high and because of the combined winter pressures, our health system needs all the support it can get."

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