Govt support package could help 40,000 workers

12:00 pm on 1 March 2011

Prime Minister John Key has revealed details of the Government's earthquake support package for Christchurch businesses and workers.

Mr Key said the Government originally considered a four-week interim package, but decided to make it six weeks to give it time to come up with a longer-term package.

He says more than 40,000 workers could benefit from the package, which will cost between $100 million and $120 million.

Mr Key has put the cost of the earthquake at between $10 billion and $15 billion. He says the figures are based on Treasury estimates, and could rise to $20 billion when the cost of September's earthquake is included.

Finance Minister Bill English says the Government would like to avoid deep Budget cuts, but some tough decisions will have to be made.

The first part of the assistance package is an earthquake support subsidy to help employers keep paying wages.

It has wider criteria than the subsidy after September's quake.

Ineligible businesses are multinational companies, nationwide chains, those with insurance cover and those with government funding already.

The subsidy is $500 a week for each full-time employee and $300 for each part-time employee.

Mr Key says the subsidy is intended to keep people in jobs and support businesses as they look to recover from the effects of the earthquake.

Job loss cover

The second part of the package is job loss cover for those who consider their business is no longer viable, and those who can't contact their employees.

The job loss cover is $400 in the hand a week to help full-time employees during their transition to another job or welfare assistance. For part-time employees, the cover is $240.

This cover is universal, not means-tested and available immediately.

Mr Key says the biggest contribution people can make to the recovery is to go back to work.

More coordinator funding wanted

The head of the Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce says the package is a good start and will hold companies together while they sort themselves out.

Chief executive Peter Townsend says one of the next steps is to persuade the Government to fund more business recovery co-ordinators.

Mr Townsend says the chamber would like to see the Government match dollar for dollar the donations being made by 65 of the country's biggest companies to help businesses get back on their feet.

A Christchurch retailer whose business has been red-stickered inside the cordon says the support package will be very helpful in the short term.

Brigitte Unwin, who runs Piko Whole Foods, says it will enable her to pay her 13 staff while they look for new premises elsewhere in the city.

Confident city can be safely rebuilt

Mr Key says he is confident Christchurch can be rebuilt to a safe standard.

He says the earthquake has huge financial implications but he thinks the country can afford it.

Mr Key says an increase in the Earthquake Commission levy to possibly three times the current level is the preferred way at present to rebuild the city.

He says the Cabinet will consider reviewing the rules on earthquake insurance, which could mean raising the maximum payout of $100,000.

Hopes fading

Families of those missing have been told it would be a miracle for anyone to now be found alive in collapsed buildings.

Search and rescue spokesperson Jim Stuart-Black says there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to survival, but the signs are not good, given there have been no signs of life in the cathedral, Canterbury TV and Pyne Gould buildings since Wednesday.