Times must be tough – Queenstown’s biggest employer is accepting handouts from the Salvation Army to feed its workers.
NZSki has this week been given a large supply of free food parcels from Sallies for 400 workers from Coronet Peak and The Remarkables who aren’t getting paid while the mountains remain closed.
It’s the worst start to winter in 20 years – Coronet Peak hasn’t opened three weeks late, and counting, since artificial snow-making began in 1991. And for the first time in its 37-year history, skifields won’t be open for Winter Festival’s kick-off.
NZSki bosses have also asked their food and beverage suppliers for grocery donations for cash-strapped staff.
The move follows the company’s push to get on-hold employees doing community volunteer work – including for the Sallies – as well as helping them apply for Work and Income benefits, providing activities and free lunches.
NZSki boss James Coddington says the call for help is justified because “there’s nobody hurting more in town than we are”.
“We’ve got more invested in this business than anyone else and we’re losing a considerable amount of money daily for not just people not coming to town, but also providing refunds for people in town who would like to be skiing right now.”
“Yes, we are a multi-million-dollar company, yes we are a large company, but we also have the most to lose, and I’m pretty sure most people understand that.”
Winter Festival boss Simon Green says pumping the festival, which begins tomorrow, when so many Queenstowners and skifield staff are struggling puts him in a bit of a bind.
“We’re getting ready to throw a big party and some people just aren’t in the mood.”
Coddington’s “grateful and humbled” by the gestures from businesses, suppliers and the local Sallies, which took the unusual step of asking its national network to rustle up such a large amount of food.
“We’ve certainly found out who our friends are, there’s no doubt about that… it’s fantastic that these companies are [offering] – and who are also, I might add, going through a great challenge themselves.”
Salvation Army Auxiliary Captain Kenneth Walker says he’s happy to help.
“Eventually, due to the lack of snow, we’d see these people come to our door and in some ways it’s better to be working directly with NZSki and doing what we can to help them help their workforce.
“We need these workers here to make the town go when the snow does come so anything we can do to help make their life easier, the better.”
Walker adds: “Some people may criticise NZSki for not having contingency plans to fund them but credit to them, they’ve been doing good by their workers for providing meals and finding activities and community work for them to do.”
An NZSki worker getting a free Fergburger on Monday says staff understand their employer’s position to not pay when the mountain’s shut because it’s in their contracts.
“If I didn’t want to take a risk and do something I love, I’d get a job that’s a bit more secure. But I feel like a pincher getting free food.”
Another employee says his flat hasn’t connected the gas since flatmates – also NZSki workers – weren’t sure when they would get paid.
“We can’t cook anything but noodles,” he says, adding they keep warm with extra jumpers, sleeping bags and jackets.
Festival boss Green says he’s relieved to have retained many free events in the 10-day programme, like the opening night party and Mardi Gras.
“It’s still an opportunity for people to celebrate.”