14 Apr 2020

Essential worker leave scheme: 70-year-old 'can't even sleep at night'

3:24 pm on 14 April 2020

Coby McGill is stressed, annoyed and a bit confused too.

72222257 - older person counting money in her palm

Photo: 123RF

The 70-year-old was an essential worker on the North Shore until Covid-19 struck. She has been sticking to the rules but that has also meant no pay.

Coby loves her job of five years, which is helping people older than her.

"I have a client who is 90 years old and I cook, clean, and wash for him. Another two are aged 78 and 80," she said.

"I love my clients. I love the old man [the 90-year-old] to pieces.... I love working with and helping people, that's my passion."

On 23 March, she learned her age meant she needed to stop working. Coby didn't want to put the people she helped at risk or break the government's rules.

Her workplace did not realise how old she was and asked her to visit a client that day, who told her she should not be working since she was over 70.

Coby got back in touch with her employer again and they asked her to take annual leave, and then sick leave, which she declined to do.

So when the government announced its essential workers' leave scheme, which is meant to make it possible for those in higher risk groups to be paid while at home, she was over the moon.

But her workplace, like many others, said it had not lost 30 percent of their revenue so it was not possible. It is a situation common to a number of at-risk essential workers who have contacted RNZ.

"Somebody has got to pay me but who is going to pay me? I'm so stressed. I can't even sleep at night," Coby said.

There is hope though for Coby and many others in similar situations. It appears businesses have been reading the rules too narrowly.

A Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment spokesperson confirmed today that the 30 percent revenue drop was not the only deciding factor for the essential workers' leave scheme.

"Businesses can show they have been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 public health restrictions. 'Negatively impacted' includes needing to pay employees who should stay home for public health reasons, and needing to fund replacement staff."

Coby thinks that is great news.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

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