Thousands seek expert business advice

Apr 07, 2020

EMA Chief Executive Brett O’Riley says an early decision to open the organisation’s AdviceLine to all has meant thousands of businesses have been able to access expert advice and guidance as the Covid-19 lockdown hit the economy.

“Normally only EMA members have access to our AdviceLine, but the EMA and some others in the BusinessNZ network made the decision to open this to any business needing help in our regions,” says Mr O’Riley.

“It was the right thing to do and I know other business-focused organisations across the country have taken a similar approach. Across the network we have taken thousands of calls and emails.”

At peak times the EMA’s AdviceLine team has had a five-fold increase in the number of calls and emails per day since the lockdown began. The EMA’s AdviceLine team are all legally trained and specialise in employment relations (ER) and human relations (HR) issues.

“With far from normal volumes we redeployed our legal and consulting teams to help on the phones, with other staff members also managing call flows and helping with advice where they could. One of our bigger members, Briscoe’s, even offered to redeploy some of their call centre staff to help us,” says Mr O’Riley.

He says issues coming into the call centre have changed as the situation has evolved, with the number of calls and emails lessening, but becoming more complex.

“Initially the calls were just about accessing the wage subsidy and sick leave schemes and questions around eligibility, then there was a high volume of calls from those wanting clarity around “essential business” status.

“Now we are getting more calls around redundancy and restructuring as companies face life with little to no revenue and no sure dates for a return to work. We’re also fielding more inquiries about how to make the workplace safe for returning and essential business staff, which is being picked up by our health and safety (H&S) consultants,” says Mr O’Riley.

The EMA has also continued to offer its member-only services, including its legal, HR, ER and  H&S consultancy, and its conferences, training and events, which have all be converted to online classroom, webinar or e-learning format and are available to both members and non-members. It has also continued to work closely with communities within its membership including ExportNZ and manufacturing.

“We are finding that there are people out there who are encouraging people to take the opportunity to undergo our top notch training while they may have some extra time on their hands as their roles have changed during Alert Level 4, and also to be best prepared for when lockdown finishes,” he says.

The EMA has also facilitated access to additional help for its members by becoming an approved provider of the scheme that helps with up to $2000 for legal or consultancy services. Businesses with 50 full time employees or less can now apply to the Covid-19 Advisory Fund.

The EMA and the BusinessNZ network have been able to build on their close working relationships with Government and relevant Ministries to help inform decision making around managing the economic impacts of the crisis for businesses.

“While some of those decisions have been tough on business, in general the Government has been responsive to issues raised around expanding the scheme, trying to clarify “essential business” status, tax relief and responsibilities for directors, as companies try to survive the lockdown and economic downturn.”

Mr O’Riley says that the EMA aims to maintain its current level of service for members and focus on guiding businesses out of Alert Level 4 and into a new operating environment, as well as continuing to support the wider business community during this unprecedented time.

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