Quake-hit shearers: 'There's still no money coming through'

4:00 pm on 30 March 2017

A shearing business in earthquake-hit Waiau is struggling to find accommodation for staff, and says it feels like the rural sector is not being valued enough by authorities following the Kaikōura earthquake.

A quake-damaged house in Waiau.

A house in Waiau, shortly after the devastating November earthquake Photo: AFP

Brothers Greg and Richard Moriarty run Moriarty Shearing with their wives, and each season they employ up to 50 workers and service about 85 farmers in the North Canterbury region.

Greg Moriarty said when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit in November, they were gearing up for the peak of the shearing season, which was then delayed by more than a month.

While several woolsheds were "red-stickered" and some farm access roads have been unusable, the main headache had been housing his workers, he said.

"We've lost a few staff through the earthquake, some of them had been through the Christchurch one and were thinking they'd make a fresh start out here and then this happened and they thought 'no, this isn't for us'. They had young families."

Mr Moriarty said they usually helped workers find a place to stay, either long-term or for the shearing season, but a lot of their accommodation had been ruined.

"Overall we lost about 12 bedrooms, 12 rooms' worth of accommodation. That's 12 staff through farm cottages, our staff accommodation, shearers' quarters, and that's within Waiau itself."

He said the problems were "ongoing" and it was difficult to attract and keep workers for his shearing gangs because there was no other accommodation in or near the town.

The government and regional council has offered temporary housing units from Christchurch to earthquake-hit farmers for about $25,000, excluding relocation costs of about $30,000.

Moriarty Shearing had applied to the earthquake relief fund for emergency help. Mr Moriarty said the company received six weeks' of financial help for its staff, but had not re-applied because the process was too difficult and it needed to spend the time sorting out accommodation.

Once the business helped staff find accommodation, they then paid a lodging fee, but at the moment the cost of temporary accommodation for staff was coming out of the business, he said.

He said it felt like rural businesses, such as farms and shearers, should be getting more help from the government to pay for and find accommodation.

For rural people it felt like the town businesses were getting more support, Mr Moriarty said.

"They're getting subsidised because their shops aren't selling - well, we've got to go and get containers, caravans, whatever in and it's all cost.

"EQC and the insurance companies say 'yes, yes, yes we'll pay, we'll do this and we'll do that', but funny enough it's been four months. You've still got to get stuff done - they say 'you pay it and we'll reimburse you', but there's still no money coming through."

Insurance and housing big problems

North Canterbury Rural Support Trust chair Doug Archibold said there was help there for the rural sector, but co-ordinating it had been difficult.

Mr Archibold said the trust provided one-on-one support for farmers, the government had money available for land damage and Federated Farmers was co-ordinating skilled workers to help on farms.

However, he said the bigger problem, in a place like Waiau with many damaged and unusable houses, was insurance.

"It is quite frustrating. Things happen slowly and that is certainly a cause of stress for farmers. It's actually getting decisions on when something is going to happen."

He said the temporary housing being offered to farmers by the government and regional council had not yet come into play.

"I understand not one house has actually been shifted up there yet. In two or three months there could be snow on the ground and we've got farmers in sheds and caravans.

"That to me is not an option in the winter... so we're trying to make things happen there."