Courses and training in construction, agriculture and community work will be free for the next two-and-a-half years, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Education Minister Chris Hipkins have announced.
Ardern also confirmed the Cabinet would next Monday consider the move to alert level 1, and she would provide details on what that would look like this week.
Watch the media conference here:
Ardern and Chris Hipkins revealed the free trades training package in a post-Cabinet briefing this afternoon.
"Supporting New Zealanders who lose their job because of the virus is at the heart of our economic response," Ardern said.
"There has already been significant job losses, and there will be many more in the coming months. Unfortunately the economic damage caused by the virus is something every country is experiencing, and not something we can avoid. However we can avoid leaving people behind and we can ensure New Zealanders and their families are also supported."
Hipkins said the industries covered by the scheme would be among those covered by the $320 million targeted training fund created by last month's government Budget.
He said all apprenticeships would be free from 1 July, and the government would also cover the costs of courses and training in particular industries.
- Agriculture, horticulture and viticulture
- Fisheries, aquaculture and forestry
- Construction, including building, plumbing, and civil engineering
- Community support, including youth work, care for elderly, counselling, mental health and addiction support;
- Manufacturing and mechanical engineering and technology
- Electrical engineering
- Road transport
Hipkins said the scheme focused on courses likely to lead to employment, and high-demand areas including regional New Zealand would also be targeted.
"We know as a result of Covid-19, many New Zealanders will be looking to retrain and employers in key sectors will need more skilled people," Hipkins said.
"Every course is different and the cost for learners at tertiary providers, industry trainees and apprentices vary but in many cases they will save between $2500 and $6500 per year."
Hipkins said apprentices and students already in training would be eligible for a partial refund if their training extended beyond 1 July.
The list of industries covered by the scheme would apply until the end of 2020.
"For 2021, we will refine these initial targeted areas to reflect the work that is underway across government to better understand how industry workforce needs are being affected by covid-19 and what skills will be needed to support the country's economic recovery."
Ardern said the trades package was "an important part of our overall plan".
"It's about ensuring people can acquire new skills and get jobs in parts of the economy critical to our Covid rebuild, and do that for free."
"This is a direct help to small businesses thinking about taking on an apprentice, and also ensures we are incentivising even more people entering the trades that we have skills shortages in."
Ardern confirms possibility of earlier move to alert level 1
Ardern started the briefing by highlighting the 11th day in a row of no new cases of Covid-19 recorded in New Zealand.
She urged any New Zealanders with symptoms to get tested.
"Every day someone has symptoms and does not get a test is a day we lose for contact tracing.
"We are still seeking from the Ministry of Health that they are still going out and testing at high risk areas, such as our border, to keep up that number of tests that we have, and I still encourage New Zealanders that if you feel sick, if you show any symptoms, please do get a test."
She had told RNZ's Morning Report today that Cabinet would consider on 8 June whether to move to alert level 1, two weeks earlier than previously indicated.
Cabinet had been expecting to consider the alert levels by 22 June and no later, but Ardern told Morning Report that based on the continued low number of cases, they could now deliberate on that earlier.
She said the country would be given a period of time to transition, but it was possible that New Zealand could be at alert level 1 by 10 June.
She reiterated that decision at this afternoon's briefing.
"We are ahead of schedule. Previous advice and modelling had assumed a more persistent and potentially longer tail of cases which, under our significantly more open settings at level 2 - especially with the larger gathering sizes we have in New Zealand compared to other countries - posed a real risk of further spread, hence our caution to date.
"Many other countries have experienced spikes in cases when lockdown restrictions have been eased, and that's what we've been keeping a close eye on in level 2. So far that tail or spike has not eventuated, and there's increasing optimism that we will not see any cases within the transmission cycle since moving to level 2."
Ardern said the strategy of going hard and early had paid off, in some cases beyond expectations and predictions.
"Therefore because of our team of five million's extra commitment to beating Covid that means we have the enviable situation of having choices, and we could well be in the situation to able to move to alert level 1 even earlier than we expected."
She also said she would provide more information on what level 1 would look like later this week.
"In short the last remaining restrictions on physical distancing and restrictions on mass gatherings are removed, though we will need to maintain strict border controls to prevent any new infections from arriving from overseas."
She said she was aware of Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters' view that New Zealand should already be at alert level 1, and that he had planned to express that view publicly.
"He had a view that we should move as of Monday ... obviously my job is to balance all of the advice that we receive from the scientists.
"We had a consensus decision, although there was an alternate view presented by some members at the Cabinet table.
"It will not surprise people... to know that from time to time the deputy PM and I will take a different view, and colleagues around the Cabinet table will take a different view."
No comment on non-prosecution of protest marchers
Questioned about protest marches across New Zealand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of US man George Floyd, Ardern said it was up to police on how to enforce distancing rules.
Police Minister Stuart Nash had said the breaches of distancing rules at the marches over the weekend were irresponsible.
Ardern rejected the idea that the government had lost authority over crowd sizes.
"Obviously we've put in place the rules, it's up to police how they determine to enforce them, but just as we had some rules broken in alert level 4, it's no reason for us to abandon what are restrictions that have been put in place for the health and safety of all New Zealanders."
She also said it was "our duty" to address and confront racism in New Zealand.
"We should never shy away from that, and of course you have seen the police going through a journey of addressing a number of issues, and including whether or not they have enough diversity within the police force.
"That is an area where they have been making gains, but I don't think our New Zealand police, or even New Zealand, would ever claim perfection. But they would say they have a job to do."
She said she would not be passing comment on the police decision not to prosecute over the breaches.
The decision to introduce Armed Response Teams in areas with a high proportion of Māori and Pasifika was a police decision, she said.
"That did not stop ministers and MPs expressing concerns that they had with those trials.
"They were trials. They've now ceased. I know the commissioner is waiting to make a judgement on what happens with their future, and we've inputted into that in the same way that I know many communities are too."
She also said Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield's view that there was no need for protesters to isolate did not equate to him having changed his view on mass gatherings in general.
"Ashley Bloomfield has not changed his views that the cumulative risk of mass gatherings above 100 - when we still run the risk of asymptomatic transmission - is not advisable at this stage."
Dr Bloomfield today reiterated that gatherings should be limited to 100 people, and those people should follow physical distancing rules.
Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:
- Covid-19 symptoms: What they are and how they make you feel
- Touching your Face: Why do we do it and how to stop
- Scientific hand-washing advice to avoid infection
- Your Covid-19 questions answered - from health and employment to managing anxiety
- A timeline: How the coronavirus started, spread and stalled life in New Zealand
- Coronavirus: A glossary of terms
- Podcast: After the Virus