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Letter to Ministers – re communication information u-turns

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To: Hon Kris Faafoi  – Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs; Hon Kelvin Davis – Minister of Tourism; Hon Stuart Nash – Minister of Small Business; Hon Phil Twyford – Minister of Economic Development

Tēnā koe Ministers

Communication breakdowns causing sweeping guidance u-turns

I am writing to formally register my concern in the breakdown in communications across Government, which is causing ongoing confusion and unnecessary distress at this time.

The most recent examples for the hospitality sector have come following the passing of the Government’s COVID-19 Public Health Response (Alert Level 2) Order 2020 (the Order) which ended up nullifying the significant work we had done with officials on the Hospitality Level 2 Operating Guidelines.

The Order has made a range of sweeping u-turns, which include:

  • counter-service: hospitality businesses no longer able to do counter service, despite the Prime Minister saying in a Facebook Live session that small cafes could;
  • single-server requirements: previously the single server requirement had a catchall “where possible” that has now gone, having significant implications on workers and their breaks and shift end times, increasing operational costs and complicating service;
  • confusion on the application of Clause 12 vs Clause 10 and different requirements – around different physical distancing 2m vs 1m, and need for contact tracing register or not.

Our Hospitality Level 2 Guidelines were finally approved for food-based businesses on Tuesday 12 May, two days before we moved to Level 2 and communicated to the industry on Wednesday morning. These guidelines were worked through over several weeks and approved with MBIE, the Ministry of Health and Worksafe. At no time were we told anything about the Order having details that would affect our industry advice, nor were we subsequently followed up with about any of the information in the Order at all.

Instead, we only found out when distraught members were visited by the Police during the weekend, who referenced the new Order, saying it superseded the Association’s approved guidelines. Members were then threatened with closure if they did not comply. Subsequent follow up with MBIE direct confirms that those who were working with us were not made aware of the implications of the Order.

In no way do I lay this breakdown in cross-Government communication at the feet of the MBIE officials we have been working with. In fact, I would go as far to say they likely share our frustration, as they too have worked tirelessly, giving up their weekends and time with whānau, to ensure that our sector gets workable operational guidelines.

We need two things:

  • the Order in place to be reviewed and amended as quickly as possible to address the ongoing flip-flops impacting our industry; and
  • Ministers to impress upon all parts of the public sector that ineffective cross-Government communication is causing not only distress and confusion in a sector that has worn a significant proportion of the economic impact of this pandemic, but is wasting everyone’s time and good-intentions to work together.

I appreciate the Order needed to go through under urgency, but surely it is common sense if the desired outcome is for compliance with the requirements that there is an obligation to make the public – in particular business owners – who are affected by the changes – aware.  We had an official from MBIE presenting to our members on the morning of Friday 15 May and nothing was said about any of the conflicts between the Order and our Level 2 Guidelines.

Via Assistant Commissioner Chambers, I am reassured that NZ Police have heard our concerns and are in an ‘engagement first, enforcement second’ mindset, however we need better communication before it becomes a matter for the Police: we need all officials to know what is happening, so that we can be proactive in guiding our industry, rather than chasing our tails long after the Government has chosen to act.

I would value Ministers’ acknowledging this correspondence and providing a direct response to these concerns.

Ngā mihi nui,

Marisa Bidois

Chief Executive

Restaurant Association of New Zealand

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