I write this on the eve of a big change for New Zealand – on Friday, 3 December we switch to the Covid-19 Protection Framework, or traffic light system. 

Our lives will be ruled by three colours – well two, because getting to green seems a while away for any region at present – and showing our vaccination papers wherever we go, either electronically, or printed with photo identification.

Once again, in making major changes to the way business is done, the Government has shown it knows very little about how businesses operate, particularly those that are not office-hours based.

Because on this night before this major change, we are still getting information about what will be required for freight companies to operate. This is the busiest time of the year, trucks are on the road 24-7, not all drivers are vaccinated, and we have a shortage of drivers.

Yet somehow, operators are supposed to have the right people on the road from 11.59pm on Thursday, 2 December.

While the Government hasn’t mandated vaccination for the New Zealand population, it really has. Most freight businesses are going to find it very hard to operate with unvaccinated drivers, as the businesses they pick up and deliver to require vaccinated-only drivers.

Unvaccinated long haul drivers won’t be able to get accommodation for the night in a motel or hotel, get food on the road, or potentially, board the interisland ferries.

The traffic light system was announced by the Prime Minister on 22 October, with the usual smiles and entreaties to “be kind”.

Then things languished to the point the law that makes the system possible was rammed through Parliament with indecent haste – and no checks and balances – last week. It was lacking so much detail we had to wait for the Covid-19 Public Health Response (Protection Framework) Order 2021 – released in draft on Wednesday, 1 December, to come into play at 11. 59pm on Thursday, 3 December, and coming in at 115 pages to digest. 

The combined Bill and Order make significant changes to employment law and practices and our businesses have been given very little time to digest those changes.

Working with government agencies, we are aware of the good work they are doing to find pragmatic and workable solutions to minimise disruption to the supply chain, while still meeting appropriate risk management thresholds. 

Unfortunately, the Ministry of Health and its masters won’t always listen and are slow to react. Afterall, whether or not businesses in New Zealand are able to operate has never been something they consider important. Their passive-aggressive refrains are all about saving lives. Their life-saving however has a singular focus and does not consider all other factors that keep everyone alive, fed, healthy and well, or our economy ticking over to pay their public service wages.

The way the traffic lights have been introduced – I can’t say managed, because we see little evidence of that – as I said in my blog a couple of weeks ago, the word of summer and 2022 will be patience. 

The Government has a majority and is accountable to no one. But they will be one day. They should come under scrutiny for the traffic light system and the weeks ahead, as well as the process for passing and implementing the laws and orders that severely impact business with this system.

Frankly howsoever, our job as an industry association, is to work with what we have got to get the best deal for trucking operators. And that is what we will continue to do. You can find our Advisory covering the traffic light system here.

In the business world the Government is so unfamiliar with, shifts are determined a fortnight or a month out. When you only receive half a day’s notice of huge changes that impact your business, how is that supposed to work? Once again, we are at the mercy of announcements from the Beehive podium with none of the foundation groundwork having been done. When it comes to employment matters, the law counts.

This has been the recurring theme of this Government’s response to Covid-19 and has been particularly pronounced since the Delta variant entered the country. They knew it was coming, yet they did not prepare. If they were running a business, they would be out of business by now. Instead, they have put a lot of good businesses under. 

It was announced this week that the number of business closures in New Zealand has exceeded the creation of new firms for the first time in nearly a decade. The sharp increase in closures was attributed to the pandemic and the associated lockdowns and travel restrictions.

We can only hope something changes in 2022. We will be working hard proactively to ensure that it does. 

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand

Please note: The content of this Advisory has been issued to inform members of Transporting New Zealand. It is for road freight transport industry circulation, not for media publication. It can be forwarded in its entirety to members of Transporting New Zealand. It cannot be reproduced, or printed in parts, under any logo other than Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand’s logo, without written permission from Transporting New Zealand.