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EXCLUSIVE: Sheraton Melbourne Hotel staff disqualified from JobKeeper ‘on pay day’

Sheraton Melbourne Hotel workers who were previously eligible for JobKeeper have been told they will no longer receive any more payments. (Source: Booking.com, VisitVictoria, Getty)

Yahoo Finance can reveal that staff of Sheraton Hotel Melbourne have had their JobKeeper payments revoked after the federal government made amendments to eligibility criteria late last week.

In a move that has been described as a ‘loophole’ that would devastate Australian workers and families, the change means employers that are ‘sovereign entities’, or wholly owned by a different government, are exempted from the $1,500 a fortnight scheme.

A Sheraton Hotel Melbourne employee told Yahoo Finance that at least 60 staff had received three weeks’ worth of JobKeeper payments, backdated to the beginning of April, after the hotel was approved by the Australian Taxation Office for JobKeeper.

However, the Australian Taxation Office has since advised the company that they are now considered ineligible.

In phone calls to employees by the hotel’s general manager, staff were advised that Sheraton Hotel Melbourne was in fact owned by a company called DFTNA Mel Pty Ltd, which is owned by Qatar Airways. Qatar Airways is wholly owned by the state of Qatar.

The Sheraton Hotel’s website and other sites would suggest it is owned by Marriott International, but more than one staff member has reached out to Yahoo Finance about being advised that the ownership of the hotel falls with Qatar Airways. In late February 2018, The Urban Developer reported Sheraton Melbourne Hotel had been acquired by Qatar Airways.

Earlier this week, Treasury confirmed that “a sovereign entity is not a qualifying employer for the purposes of JobKeeper payment”.

Sheraton Hotel Melbourne staff were due to receive a further fortnight’s worth of JobKeeper payments when the phone call came advising them they will never receive the other payments after Treasurer Josh Frydenberg made his legislative amendments.

Yahoo Finance has contacted Sheraton Hotel Melbourne and Marriott International for comment. The ATO declined to comment “due to our obligations of confidentiality under the law”.

“We employ hundreds of Australians and now a lot of us aren't sure what to do,” one employee* told Yahoo Finance. “Some of us [aren’t] eligible for JobSeeker, either, so [it] makes life difficult for us.”

“It's tough times already but that news really hurt, we are all born and raised Aussies doing the right thing and now life is about to get a whole lot tougher.”

The hotel general manager and HR officer were also taken by surprise by the news, he indicated.

“This week was meant to be paid for the fortnight, then on pay day, they called all staff eligible [to say] that unfortunately they just found out we aren't eligible anymore.

“My GM was very frustrated and he was the one calling the staff,” he said.

Another 1,400 ineligible

Airline security group Certis Security Australia (CSA) has also been informed that their staff are now ineligible for JobKeeper payments.

The ATO determined that CSA are considered ineligible because their business does not meet the requirements for the decline in turnover, but this may only be one of two reasons for ineligibility.

CSA is owned by Temasek Holdings, which is headquartered in Singapore. Temasek Holdings is owned by the Singaporean government.

This leaves more than a thousand workers no longer receiving income.

“Approximately 1,400 of our frontline aviation employees throughout Australia have been stood down or working reduced hours. Unfortunately, we are not eligible for the JobKeeper scheme, otherwise our employees would have been eligible to access this benefit,” a CSA spokesperson said.

“This is a hugely challenging time for our employees and our business. In the absence of government assistance, we are undertaking a range of measures to ensure the business remains sustainable; including salary reductions for the Senior Leadership Team and reduced working hours for the majority of corporate and support employees.”

Today is the deadline for JobKeeper: Aussie bosses have until the end of Friday 8 May to pay their eligible staff the subsidy for the first two JobKeeper fortnights in April.

*Employees have requested anonymity.

Has your employer been exempted from the JobKeeper scheme for being a ‘sovereign entity’? Get in touch with us at jessica.yun@yahoofinance.com.

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