In today’s edition: The government’s followed through on a major election promise, charges have been laid over the 2019 Whakaari eruption, and a Covid-19 vaccine could be ready by March.
There has been a lot of major politics news over the past 24 hours, so bear with me as I run through some of the biggest developments.
First up, the government has announced plans to follow through on its election promise of doubling sick leave. As Stuff reports, from late-2021 the minimum amount of paid sick leave will be upped to 10 days a year. The bill goes to the house today, before heading through the select committee process over the next few months.
One thing the government has chosen not to do is change the maximum amount of sick leave that can be accumulated. That limit will remain at 20. Upping the number of sick days to 10 was a policy Labour campaigned on before the election, saying it was necessary to ensure people could take time off work if they had Covid-19 symptoms.
National isn’t too pleased with the announcement. In a scathing press release, the party’s workplace relations spokesperson Scott Simpson said an economic crisis is not the time to be increasing sick leave provisions. “Doubling sick leave just piles more costs onto business at a time when they can least afford it, coming on top of minimum wage increases and the proposal for an extra public holiday,” he said.
It’s no surprise that Act’s David Seymour isn’t onboard either. He said Labour was using the coronavirus crisis to push its left-wing agenda. “Small businesses can’t afford five extra days of sick leave on top of one of the highest minimum wages in the world, a new public holiday, ‘fair pay’ agreements and all of the other costs Labour is adding,” said Seymour. He posited that this legislation is driven by “the unions who back Labour”.
Jacinda Ardern copped some flack yesterday after blaming the public for skyrocketing house prices. In an interview with TVNZ, the prime minister said her government had tried “three times now to do things that specifically sit in that taxation category and there hasn’t been wide support for that”.
It’s slightly disingenuous to suggest that there hasn’t been wide support. Labour’s capital gains tax policy failed due to New Zealand First’s “handbrake” and was subsequently ruled out by Ardern for her entire tenure as PM. The policy had been one which Ardern personally backed and campaigned hard on during the 2017 election.
Two government agencies are among a group of 13 organisations and individuals charged over last year’s Whakaari/White Island disaster. As The Spinoff’s live updates reported, both GNS Science and the National Emergency Management Agency (Nema) acknowledged they are among the 10 organisations charged over the eruption that claimed 22 lives.
Last night, it was also confirmed that the owners of Whakaari are among those facing charges. As RNZ explains, White Island is owned by the Buttle family, through Whakaari Management Limited and its three directors, James, Peter and Andrew Buttle. Their lawyer confirmed to RNZ that they had been charged, but had not yet received specific details.
Two touring companies have also come forward to say they were charged. White Island Tours told RNZ it was one of the parties facing penalties, but that no individuals or employees have been charged. Volcanic Air Safaris said it did not yet know the detail of the charges it was facing.
Meanwhile, three individuals are facing fines of up to $300,000 in relation to the disaster. WorkSafe chose not to name the parties, saying they will remain anonymous until a court hearing (where it’s possible they will apply for name suppression). The individuals each face a single charge “that as officers of the company they failed to exercise due diligence in ensuring that the organisation was meeting its health and safety obligations”.
A Covid-19 vaccine could be available to New Zealanders as soon as March next year. But, as Jacinda Ardern told Newstalk ZB, it might not be rolled out to everyone at the same time. “At this point, our expectation that we’ve been running to is more around the March date,” said Ardern.
Meanwhile, there were four new cases of the coronavirus yesterday, all in managed isolation. The Spinoff’s live updates provided details of the new cases: one arrived from Ethiopia via Dubai and Kuala Lumpur on November 14 and tested positive at day 11 on Friday. Two people arrived from the US on November 23 and tested positive at day five after someone in their bubble had previously tested positive. The other case is an arrival from the US on November 26 who tested positive at day 3.
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In other news, global giant Unilever has today announced that its New Zealand division will trial a four day working week. As the Herald reports, Unilever New Zealand’s participating employees will retain their salaries at 100% while working 80% of the time. Yes, you read that right: eight hour days, four days a week, for the exact same pay.
The company’s managing director Nick Bangs said that momentum for a shorter week is building in the wake of Covid-19. “We’re not working to a playbook,” he said. “We trust our employees to do the best for the company and will give them the support and resources to innovate and make their own decisions.” Unilever won’t shut down as a whole for the fifth day but workers would be staggered and take either a whole day or two half days off a week.
Unilever acknowledged that it’s been inspired by Perpetual Guardian. Entrepreneur Andrew Barnes trialled a four-day working week in the Kiwi trustee business in 2018 and has since become a major proponent of it. “He has had a huge influence on us. He talks about this as being a mechanism to get people to think, work and act differently,” Bangs said.
We’ve heard a lot about housing in recent weeks, and there’s more bad news today. Nine regions have hit a 13-year record for low stock, with seven reporting an all-time high for asking prices, according to realestate.co.nz. “Nationally the total number of homes available for sale in November was down 16.9% on November 2019, with nine regions recording 13-year record stock lows. That’s despite a 14.5% year-on-year increase in new listings,” spokesperson Vanessa Taylor said.
Nationally, the average asking price for Kiwi properties is $797,156. That’s an increase of 17.1% since November last year, according to the website. Auckland, Waikato, Hawke’s Bay, Southland, Coromandel, Wairarapa and Manawatu/Whanganui have all reached peak asking prices since realestate.co.nz records began 13 years ago.
A comparison site for mobile phone plans could be on the way. A report on TVNZ’s Fair Go last night said key players like Spark, Vodafone and 2Degrees have agreed to look at how a consumer data “right” might work. The report said that the Commerce Commission had analysed “a million bills from 80,000 customers” to try and determine how many of us are overpaying for our mobile phones. About 25% of us could save $140 each year by switching plans, the report concluded.
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Right now on The Spinoff: There’s a brand new episode of our chart-topping podcast Coming Home. Josie Adams takes a look at six Wellington flats that don’t breach the healthy homes regulations, after a literal hellhole went viral last week. Chris Schulz reviews TV3’s new show Taranaki Hard. And Andrew Chen and Kristiann Allen investigate new police tech and ask whether it breaches privacy.
For a feature today, a Queenstown resident writes about the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on the local tourism scene. Originally published on Mountain Scene (Queenstown’s local news), but subsequently republished on the Herald, here’s Darren Lovell:
We can pretend all we like how great the school holidays were, how fantastic marathon weekend was, and yes, I’m told, hang on in there, a travel bubble to Australia will be with us soon.
‘‘Things are on the improve,’’ writes my landlord, responding to my email explaining why I can’t pay the full amount of rent owing for the sixth month straight.
‘‘There’s a vaccine coming.’’
I scream. I cry.
Doesn’t anyone get it?
We need the vaccine now.
We need our borders open now.
We need tourists now.
Without them I do not have a profitable business.
Hands up if the same thing applies to you?
And in sport, it was a damp end to the Black Caps T20 series against the West Indies. After a pair of resounding victories over the weekend, last night’s game at Mount Maunganui was called off due to rain after just 2.2 overs, according to the Herald. Still, the series was a 2-0 win for the Black Caps.
You may have gathered from the last two Bulletins that cricket is really all I know about. I’m sorry.
A message from Alex Braae: Start getting your suggestions in now for the best NZ journalism of 2020! As we do every year, we’ll be using December to highlight some of the best pieces of writing, investigative work and reporting, from a rather tumultuous year. Obviously work on Covid-19 will feature heavily, but please feel free to suggest other stuff that happened outside of that. Send your suggestions through to firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s it for The Bulletin. Alex is back tomorrow, thanks for reading the last couple of issues! If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme. Bye for now.