Covid-19 job losses hit Māori and young hardest in Taranaki

2:43 pm on 19 June 2020

Māori and people under 30 are those worst hit by job losses in Taranaki because of Covid-19.

Hotel service worker. (file image).

Hotels and motels have been badly hit by the Covid-19 crisis in Taranaki with lay-offs, the region's Chamber of Commerce says. Photo: 123RF

The latest jobseeker numbers for the region have jumped nearly 26 percent since just before the lockdown to a total of more than 9700 in early June.

The pandemic has been turning life on its head for business owners and workers alike.

New Plymouth House of Travel owner Tracey Edgecombe said Covid-19 was a crisis no-one saw coming and the decision to lay off half her team was one of the hardest she had ever made.

"It was horrible, really horrible and it's the thought process that goes into it as well, so it's not just saying 'you, you and you'.

"It's weeks of work building up to it to actually try and figure out how you are going to keep each individual.

"It's horrible because we are a really small team. We call us our HOT family and we are. We really get on well and it was really hard to split that team up."

Edgecombe, who has been in the travel industry for 15 years and owned the business for 18 months, said the five staff laid-off took the news as best as could be expected.

House of Travel owner Tracey Edgecombe.

Tracey Edgecombe. Photo: Supplied

"They were really understanding, really good. I mean it's pretty obvious the writing is on the wall. The money is going out, not in so we couldn't sustain that.

"But hopefully we've made enough changes to be able to save the business and build it back up again and get them back again."

Edgecombe said turnover had gone off a cliff.

"Oh I don't know 99 percent, 100 percent. It's pretty low."

She said Taranaki residents booking domestic travel through the agent would be vital to the business's survival prospects.

Her business was only one of many facing difficult times.

Taranaki Chamber of Commerce chief executive Arun Chaudhari said layoffs were spreading throughout the regional economy.

"So hotels, motels they've been very badly hit. Then, of course, the hospitality as in the dining industries.

"A lot of not-for-profit organisations are hit because sponsorship has become exceedingly difficult for them.

"And we've had one engineering company report that they are laying off people."

Industrial area of New Plymouth.

More than 9700 in early June were seeking jobs in the region - a nearly 26 percent increase from just before the Covid-19 lockdown. Photo: povalec/123RF

But the job losses have not hit all demographics equally.

"We've had a 30 percent increase in the number of jobseekers. A lot of them are younger people," Chaudhari said.

"They are below the age of 35. So that's about 30 percent of them are under 35 and about 30 percent of those are Māori."

The number of Māori in Taranaki looking for work has leapt from 2445 in April to 3363 by 20 May - a jump of 37.5 percent.

Chaudhari said in response to the crisis, the chamber had started a new initiative linking people out of work with companies which were still employing.

Hannah Trott was working in the Department of Conservation cafe at the North Egmont Visitor Centre when Covid-19 struck.

"I was on a contract that was renewed every six months, so when Covid happened and we went into lockdown they weren't doing any more recruitment," she said.

"That meant my contract wasn't going to be signed again unfortunately, so that made me, well, unemployed, redundant and I was frantically looking for a new job."

In a total change of direction, Whitaker Civil Engineering has employed the 26-year-old and she is now crushing rocks at its Waiwhakaiho Quarry.

Hannah Trott, 26, took up a job with Whitaker Civil Engineering crushing rocks at its Waiwhakaiho Quarry.

Hannah Trott, 26, took up a job with Whitaker Civil Engineering crushing rocks at its Waiwhakaiho Quarry. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

"I like a challenge and I like to learn new things and this is definitely a new curve for me, and I'm learning heaps every day which is really cool."

Trott had to admit, however, she had never imagined she would end up working a quarry.

"No, absolutely not. I didn't even know how quarries worked actually before working here so it's pretty cool. I'm very lucky."

Quarry boss Mike McGregor thought Trott was doing just fine, and said Whitaker was always looking for people with the right attitude.

"Go to the yard, put your name down. Take in a CV and you've got as good a chance as anyone of getting a job."

He reckoned there was plenty of work.

Meanwhile, Trott is hoping to take advantage of her new role and to learn how to drive trucks and diggers.

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