Tagata Pasifika The Pacific voice on New Zealand television since 1987

Pasifika businesses in need of vital support coming out of lockdown

Soana Aholelei | Reporter / Director

Many Pasifika businesses have been struggling during the level three and four lockdowns. Concerned business owners say if Auckland does not go back to level two soon, they will have no choice but to lay off workers.

Cook Islander Robbie Kainuku is happy to be back open for business. The staff are busy making coffee and packing goodies, wearing face masks and social distancing under Covid restrictions.

“We got here at 7am, and people from 7am have been coming through the door. So a little bit crazy, because we didn’t expect to have so many orders. We have hangi pies, palusami pies, little cupcakes and the doughnuts, fresh cream doughnuts,” boasts Robbie.

Five weeks at level four lockdown gave the Blue Rose Café owner plenty of time to plan ahead for the move to level three.

“Last year we didn’t have any experience at a lockdown at all, so we just went with the flow of things. This year we knew what was going to happen, so we put a plan in place for today and for the rest of the week and structured the staff to work different hours to do prep and stuff like that. So we kind of knew what to expect this time, because we’ve been here before.”

But Robbie admits five weeks at level four was tough.

“It is hard, because even though you get the government subsidies, it doesn’t cover everything,” says Robbie.

The duration of the level four lockdown really hit hard for some businesses. Fortunately for some, the wage subsidy has helped ease some of the financial burden. But it may not be enough.

Pacific Business Trust CEO Pelenato Sakalia says the Pasifika business community is struggling.

“The statistics that we’re seeing from our data and the voices that we’re hearing from the telephone calls, the brutal realities of these situations is that it’s taking people to the brink,” says Pelenato.

“Pacific people are really resilient, but we have taken a huge hit. People aren’t going to bounce out of this lockdown; people are going to crawl. We’ve got to somehow find a way to support them transition back into the economy.”

Business owner Saia Latu says the lockdown’s been hard, especially this time round.

“We did apply for the wage subsidy, but that’s just for the employees. As an employer we’ve still got massive overheads to pay — lease, machinery — our overheads are huge,” says Saia.

“With level three we can go back to work, but that’s only 20% for us as a business getting back to it. Some of our contracts that we have are government contracts, and a lot of them are not back until level two.”

“If we don’t get back to working, we have to let go of a lot of sub-contractors, and there will be a lot of people with no jobs,” says Saia.

One thing these owners agree on is for Aotearoa to go back to level one, the country needs to stay the course.

“We need to get vaccinated to help our elderly and also for people to get back to work,” says Saia.

Robbie agrees. “Stay home, keep their distance, wear masks and get vaccinated.”

A sentiment supported by Pelenato: “There are some small sacrifices that we’re each going to have to make, but at the end of the day we need to make those so that we can keep each other safe. Being safe means we’ve got a better chance of being able to get out and be productive and have the ability to generate income.”

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