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Urgent Consideration Given To District’s Welfare Issues

A looming welfare crisis in the Queenstown Lakes District is being given urgent consideration, Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult confirmed today.

There are a significant number of migrant visa workers across the district who are losing their jobs but may not be eligible for the government’s bail-out package.

Mayor Boult was aware of at least two employers who were collectively ‘letting go’ 300 workers in this category over the course of the week in Queenstown alone. With the imminent lockdown there are likely to be many more.

“Employers have confirmed to me that the approach being taken is that, where possible, Kiwi workers are retained while immigrants are laid off first. While this is a tough decision it is the correct one, but the number of migrant workers in our district is in the thousands,” Mayor Boult said.

Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) is working through a range of potential solutions and will approach central government for assistance. These could include support for some who have the potential to stay, and travel assistance for those who need to return to their homes.

“A modest allowance to tide these people over will be a possible solution for some, while others will need our community to wrap around them. I am calling on our business community and landlords to exercise some humanity,” Mayor Boult said.

“I am determined not to see homeless and hungry people in our district.”

Some employers could consider offering a meal option or a form of moderate assistance towards living costs and groceries. The government’s newly announced business support package may mean employers can review their ability to hold more workers.

Landlords are showing some compassion and, where possible, are enabling people to stay in their accommodation at this very challenging time.

Some roles are still available in horticulture and viticulture, and employees should be working to support employees into alternate roles wherever possible. When the community comes through the current crisis it will once again need to rely on itinerant workers, so being able to retain at least some of these workers within the community is important. The Council has been working with central government to explore offering some leniency towards work visa rules to enable visa holders to transfer into other roles. This would allow them to stay in the country and help carry out much needed work in other sectors.

“I am aware of landlords who have, for example, negotiated that unemployed tenants work on the property or grounds in lieu of rent. It is a tough time for landlords with mortgages to meet but banks are offering mortgage holidays that can be passed on to tenants,” Mayor Boult said.

Others in the community may be willing to offer temporary shelter. “A multitude of options need to be on the table right now,” Mayor Boult added.

In order to understand the medium to long-term needs of the community, Council is seeking to hear from those who have found themselves in a vulnerable position. This will be done via an online form, enabling Council to pass on contact details to appropriate government departments and also understand the extent of the challenge.

The form, which includes a welfare registration component, can be found on QLDC’s website here: https://www.qldc.govt.nz/covid-19

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