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‘Cruelly exposed’: Casual workers ‘abandoned’ in rescue package

Unions and social services groups are concerned Scott Morrison's coronavirus package doesn't protect casual workers. Images: Getty

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been met with cries of “cruel indifference” over its treatment of casual workers in his $17.6 billion stimulus package announced today.

Under the major package, casual workers who have contracted coronavirus, or those who need to self-isolate, will be eligible for Newstart payments, based on an assets test. 

The waiting period for the payment will be waived. 

However, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) described this element as leaving casual workers “cruelly exposed” and an example of the government’s “indifference” towards casual and itinerant workers. 

“Newstart payments are far less than what nearly all casual workers are currently paid, so the financial penalty remains,” ACTU secretary Sally McManus said on Thursday. 

“In order for our country to slow down the spread of the virus and to stop infecting at risk people, workers will need to make decisions to self-isolate. We must remove the financial penalty for people to make this decision.”

She said Morrison’s pledge “falls short of what is required” and fails to adequately address the huge public health concern. 

“It’s not good enough.”

The ACTU has been calling for the government to provide a guarantee of two weeks paid leave for all workers forced to self-isolate, warning that many households will be unable to maintain their current incomes without it. 

“With 1 in 3 workers in Australia not having any access to paid leave we need the government to step in and ensure that employers are able to fund proper leave for workers who have to self-isolate due to public health concerns,” McManus said. 

“Working people in Australia are already struggling with a slowing economy and domestic spending is drying up across the nation.”

The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) said Newstart, in general, needs to be increased. It said that while the promised $750 payments for households receiving benefits is welcome, the stimulus package doesn’t go far enough. 

“The most effective step the government can take, both from an economic and social perspective, is to increase the base rate of Newstart,” ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said.

“Increasing Newstart is one of the best ways to provide immediate economic stimulus where it is needed most. It will be spent rapidly, injecting much needed dollars into the economy to keep small businesses open.”

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