Media Release: More flexible, principles-based criteria needed for businesses permitted to operate under Alert Level 3

Media Release
14 April, 2020

Wellington, 14 April - The New Zealand Initiative welcomes comments from Finance Minister Grant Robertson today before the Epidemic Response Committee about the need for a principles-based approach to what businesses will be able to operate at Alert Level 3.

New Zealand Initiative Executive Director, Oliver Hartwich said: “The essential/non-essential categorisation of businesses or business activities at Alert Level 4 was cumbersome, bureaucratic and difficult for both businesses and consumers. A more flexible, risk-based approach is needed at Alert Level 3. We are pleased to hear the Minister is thinking along the same lines.”

After the anticipated four-week lockdown, the Initiative strongly supports the signalled decision to relax the  Alert Level 4 restrictions on economic activity. “Just as the virus spreads at an exponential rate, a continued lockdown of all but ‘essential’ businesses will have an exponentially adverse economic effect, causing escalating job losses and business failures,” said Hartwich. “New Zealand faces a real risk that the harm to wellbeing to New Zealand households from continuing to lock down our economy will exceed the wellbeing gains from the lockdown.”

While all New Zealanders will be hoping the virus has been eradicated during the existing four-week lockdown, Hartwich said we must all acknowledge the risk that it has not. Because of the adverse effects of continuing the lockdown, we consider that the lockdown should be relaxed to the greatest extent possible without jeopardising the containment of the virus.  “In practical terms, the goal should be to proceed to Alert Level 2 as soon as possible”, he said.

At Alert Level 3, the New Zealand Initiative considers the Government should supplement the essential/non-essential criteria used for Alert Level 4 (and retained in the criteria for Alert Level 3) with the principles-based approach in the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSA).

The HSA provides a framework for systematic step-by-step and logical evaluation of how work of all types can be carried out safely for both workers and others. This is based on the primary duty of care which requires businesses to ensure the health and safety of workers and others so far as is reasonably practicable. The HSA also includes an inspection regime policed by Worksafe New Zealand to ensure compliance.
Under an HSA approach to Alert Level 3:

  1. Essential services would continue to be provided as they currently are under Alert Level 4;
  2. However, all other businesses activities (including the non-essential activities of businesses currently providing essential services) that are able to comply with risk-based principles designed to minimise the risk of infection from workplace activities would also be permitted;
  3. Workplace New Zealand would develop general guidelines to assist businesses, including appropriate rules in relation to social distancing (but permitting “workplace bubbles” where necessary – for example, in the construction sector);
  4. With help from industry-specific groups, businesses would have responsibility for preparing and certifying their health and safety plans by job-type/workplace having regard to the Covid-19 risks (as indeed they are already required to under the HSA; and
  5. Workplace New Zealand would have the responsibility for monitoring compliance.

Hartwich said, “By adopting the existing principles of New Zealand’s health and safety legislation and leaving the burden of developing job-specific/workplace guidelines on a combination of industry groups and individual businesses, the Government will be able to avoid bureaucratic complexity, ensure flexibility and achieve higher levels of clarity for business than would arise by the adoption of a new framework (like the essential/non-essential services framework that has proved so difficult for businesses to apply).

Aside from relaxing the restrictions on social-distancing, the framework will be suitable to be carried over once the Government reduces the economy-wide restrictions to Alert Level 2. It should also provide an alternative framework to Alert Level 4 should it become necessary to increase the restrictions on work after relaxation to Alert Level 2.

Because uncertainty is one of the greatest threats to business confidence, The New Zealand Initiative also strongly encourages the Government to publish transparent criteria that it will use to guide relaxation or tightening of the Alert Level restrictions.


Oliver Hartwich is available for comments. To schedule an interview, please contact:

Linda Heerink, Communications Officer
P: 021 172 8036

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