The National Party says the Government should pay 100 per cent of someone’s wages and salary for the two weeks they’re self-isolating to make it easier for them to stay at home.
Opposition leader Judith Collins said Auckland’s latest cluster and resulting lockdown was a “harsh reminder” about how important it is for people to self-isolate when told to.
National’s proposal would see the payments go directly to employees, with no requirement for employers to claim it.
Wage payments would be capped at two times a person’s ordinary earnings for a week.
The Government’s current Leave Support Scheme pays full-time workers $1176.60, pre-tax, as a lump sum for a fortnight of self-isolation. Median rent prices in South Auckland, where the latest Covid-19 cluster is concentrated, is between $500 to $600 a week, adding up to $1000 to $1200 a fortnight.
Part-time workers, meanwhile, are paid a $700 lump sum.
“This is well below minimum wage and below what a full-time worker would earn from sick leave,” Collins said.
“We must make it easier for people to stay home when required.”
National's Covid-19 Response spokesperson, Chris Bishop, said Treasury had already told the Government financial support would be needed to support those who were self-isolating.
In a Cabinet paper from March 2020 when establishing the leave support scheme, Finance Minister Grant Robertson and then-Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway acknowledged this fact, saying some people may feel compelled to go to work to meet the cost of living.
“If the costs are left solely to firms and workers, many will be incentivised against self-isolating. This will undermine our public health objectives."
They suggested paying people the minimum wage, which was $756 at the time, or $590 a week, in line with the wage subsidy payment.
Cabinet opted for the former.
Bishop said the new proposal is based on the previous National Government’s Compensation for Live Organ Donors Act, which sees the Government pay 100 per cent of the income of people who take time off from work to donate organs.
“Self-isolating is the right thing to do, but if doing the right thing means you will be financially penalised then people will be more likely to go to work instead and put the rest of us at risk.”
He said the scheme was a “sensible investment” because lockdowns cost the New Zealand economy $500 million a week in Auckland alone.
The flip-side of Government support for self-isolating is tougher enforcement of the rules, he said.
“The Government should be making it as easy as possible to self-isolate, but the quid pro quo is that people who break the rules face consequences. This is the fair way to go.”
The Government has announced a number of financial support schemes for people affected by Covid-19.
The wage subsidy scheme is also made available to businesses and their employees when there was a move to Alert Level 3 or above for more than seven days.
“We even gave funding directly to our public health funds to say if you are concerned that there are financial and welfare needs, then we can support that directly,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.
"As well of course as all our public health unit being aware of the short-term leave payment, we have a payment that covers if you have to stay home to wait for a test and you’re unable to work, we also have a 14-day payment if you’re required to isolate plus we have everyone being advised of their welfare support that is available.
“If you go into the Jet Park [quarantine facility], it’s just ramped up, the support that is provided.”