Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 23. All the latest news from New Zealand, updated throughout the day. Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
11.00am: Child poverty stats improve, but still 125,000 in material hardship
The latest child poverty statistics have been released, showing more than 125,000 New Zealand children are living in households in material hardship.
That figure – representing 11% of children – is a drop from the 13.2% recorded in the year ending June 2019.
Māori, Pasifika and households with disabled children are also more than twice as likely to be experiencing poverty compared to Pākehā, according to Stats NZ.
The annual measure only takes into account the nine months to March 2020 – with the Covid-19 lockdown preventing accurate data records.
More to come.
9.30am: Experts propose seven-tier alert level system
Auckland has joined the rest of the country in alert level one overnight after a week of Covid-19 restrictions following the Valentine’s Day cluster.
Now, some of our country’s top epidemiologists have proposed changing the alert level system to factor in things like mask use and regional restrictions.
Michael Baker – who is behind the alternative system along with professor Nick Wilson and Dr Amanda Kvalsvig – told Stuff the current system lacked clear and consistent guidelines around “in-between” levels.
In-between levels such as 2.5 need to be built into the system, Baker said, as does guidance around mask use. People were often confused about when they were necessary, he claimed, saying “it creates conflict and uncertainty”.
Current border response ‘highly problematic’
Professor Nick Wilson said our current border response is putting the country at risk.
Speaking to the Herald, Wilson – one of those behind the proposed seven-tier system – said the current response was “highly problematic”.
“The failure rate is just so unsustainably high, with now 11 border failures since last August,” he said.
The tap should be turned down on the number of returnees, he said, “so we have time to get our act together at the border”.
7.50am: Changes to leave entitlements on the way
You’ll soon be able to take sick leave from your very first day in a new job.
The government’s announced it has accepted all of the recommendations made by the Holidays Act Taskforce, established to have a look at the way our current leave and pay entitlements operate.
Workplace relations minister Michael Wood said employers have found the current legislative requirements “hard to administer”, which has meant costly fixes and employees missing out on their entitlements.
“The changes put forward by the Holidays Act Taskforce will make it easier to calculate entitlements and pay, giving employees and employers certainty and transparency. Business and union representatives reached consensus on these changes and we are delivering on our election commitment to implement them,” Wood said.
Speaking on RNZ, Wood said the existing Act is just too complicated. “The government’s acceptance of [the Taskforce report] should be the end to years of confusion, underpayment and costly settlements,” Wood said. “There have been around a quarter of a billion dollars worth of settlements across the private and public sectors because the rules were too complicated.”
These changes, Wood said, would cope with “the range of situations that happen in the modern workplace”, such as weekend work and shifts.
Wood called the parental leave change – where parents returning to work will be paid their full rate – a “win all around”.
The changes recommended include:
- Entitling eligible employees to bereavement leave and family violence leave from their first day of employment;
- Giving eligible employees one day’s sick leave from their first day of employment, with an additional day given per month until the minimum entitlement is reached;
- Extending bereavement leave to include more family members, including cultural family groups and more modern family structures;
- Removing the current parental leave “override” to address discrimination against parents who take time off to care for their young children. Removing this provision will mean that employees returning to work following parental leave will be paid at their full rate for annual holidays
- Requiring payslips, so employees know what their used and remaining leave entitlements are, and how these were calculated.
Wood said there are “complexities” in any system involving leave, but he is confident these changes will work – and be better. Legislation will be introduced early next year, said Wood.
7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin
Auckland is back to level one again today, after a very brief lockdown relative to the others. As our live updates reports, it follows a solitary new community case which has been contained and is linked to the existing cluster. There is still no source for the original outbreak, but health officials clearly feel they have a handle on it.
The approach represents something a bit different in the fight against Covid-19, in that it has been less overtly cautious. That theme has been picked out by several journalists and commentators, and perhaps gives an indication of what future lockdowns look like – if they happen at all. There was an insightful piece from Marc Daalder at Newsroom on this, who noted that it represented a higher degree of risk being taken on. Writing in the (paywalled) NZ Herald, economically liberal commentator Matthew Hooton gave praise to the “maturity” of the government in making the call last week – and it’s fair to say he doesn’t often have much good to say about how the government handles itself.
The short and sharp lockdown could also have an impact on other policies.Politik reports that the new mood has raised the prospect of a trans-Tasman bubble being put in place, which would massively free up capacity in managed isolation. That may not be a popular policy though – new Stickybeak polling shows the closed border policy continues to be overwhelmingly supported by the public.
Even so, things won’t go back to being exactly the same before this outbreak. Masks will now be required on public transport nationwide – regardless of alert level. Businesses will also still be required to display a QR code. It all feels like another step in the long process of tightening up public behaviour, so that blunter tools like lockdowns don’t become so necessary.
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