'Uncertainty is hanging around our necks' in Franz Josef

Franz Josef township is nestled beneath the Southern Alps on the West Coast and surrounded by...
The local Civil Defence team door-knocked 90% of residents yesterday to check on their welfare. Photo: Matthew Haggart.
About 150 foreign workers staying in New Zealand on temporary visas, are still in Franz Josef Glacier, many without jobs after Covid hit.

"Uncertainty is hanging around our necks," Franz Josef Civil Defence member Graham Berry said today.

The local Civil Defence team door-knocked 90% of residents yesterday to check on their welfare, ask if they were interested in any possible short-term work, what agencies they needed to talk to, and to find out what they needed in the way of food, clothing and heating.

It was the second time they had checked on residents' health and needs since lockdown started seven weeks ago.

"They are unsure about their jobs and what the Government is going to do. Some have managed to get hold of Immigration NZ, and others have had their visas extended to the end of May."

Meanwhile, some resident workers were in the midst of company restructures, and those on wage subsidies did not know how long they would last and if they would be eligible for benefits.

"The mood of the town is still surprisingly upbeat. People are trying to beat this, and they are opportunities out there," Mr Berry said.

"But a lot of people have been living and working here for 20 or 30 years who have houses and mortgages, and are now being made redundant. Many are stunned still and it's really hard because they are not sure about how they are going to get on and where they are positioned."

Franz Josef Civil Defence recently put out the call for winter clothes and bedding, while donated goods have been distributed from a store in the town over three days last week.

"We have had some New Zealand tourists coming through, which is fabulous. But while we know a lot of Australians will and do travel, we don't know when Australia's borders will open."

Mr Berry called for a lifting of Covid restrictions on the number of people gathering for a public event to 50 so the community could meet and catch up, and children could play sport.

The South Westland Emergency Relief Fund, with help from Civil Defence, the Anglican and Catholic churches, Lions, Te Runanga o Makaawhio and local supermarkets was setting up a foodbank to distribute vouchers to those in need.

The foodbank would be available for residents living south of Ross.

Meanwhile, another check on Franz Josef residents' welfare was planned in a few weeks' time, he said.

He encouraged West Coast residents keen to assist South Westland's hard-hit communities to visit for a day, or stay overnight: "The helicopters are flying and there are some great deals going — come down and enjoy our town."

- Helen Murdoch

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