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Who the $1,500 wage subsidies left behind

The $130 billion package is unprecedented, but unions claim more needs to be done. Images: Getty

Prime Minister Scott Morrison estimates as many as 6 million Australians will access the huge $130 billion wage subsidy plan within the next six months. 

The wage subsidy plan, announced on Sunday, will see employers granted subsidies to keep staff on their books. Staff, in turn, will receive a subsidy or wage replacement of $1,500 a fortnight, more than the top JobSeeker payment of $1,100 a fortnight. 

Sole traders are also able to access the support, as are casual workers who have been with their employer for at least 12 months. 

To qualify as a business, there must have been at least a 30 per cent fall in revenue, and for a large business, they must have seen revenue fall by at least 50 per cent, with the major banks wholly excluded from the scheme. More than 370,000 businesses have already signed up to the wage subsidy.

While the scheme is comprehensive, unions and community groups have warned many workers still fall through the cracks. 

Casual workers

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secretary Sally McManus welcomed the subsidy, but warned many casual workers will fall through the holes. 

“We also want to ensure all casuals who could have reasonably expected to work now but have lost their jobs because of the pandemic are covered. Many of these workers may not have worked the last 12 months,” McManus said. 

“We also want to ensure that this subsidy applies to the 1.4million visa workers who were working, there is no reason why it should not.”

Of the 2.6 million casual workers in Australia, around 955,000 have been with their current employer for less than a year, Australian Bureau of Statistics data reveals. 

The majority of those workers are in accommodation, hospitality and retail jobs. 

The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) echoed McManus’ calls, noting that the payment should apply to workers who may have been with their employer for less than a year but could have reasonably been expected to continue working. 

Women

Women are more likely to miss out as they tend to be more heavily employed in casual positions, as Broad Agenda chief editor Virginia Haussegger observed. 

Women account for just over half of all casuals, and are heavily employed in the hard-hit retail sector. They also make up only 37.7 per cent of full-time workers

Visa workers

The SDA also noted that there are around 1.7 million visa workers who will miss out on the payment. 

While New Zealanders in Australia on 444 visas are eligible for the payment, most other short-term visa-holders aren’t eligible. 

Asked on Sunday whether there would be exceptions, Morrison said the government was considering some exceptions but “for now the short answer to that is no”.

The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) has called for visa workers to be covered by the wage subsidies. 

It said workers on bridging visas and skilled working visas shouldn’t be forgotten.

“This package should also provide some certainty to other temporary visa holders working in this country, regardless of their visa status. This is a relatively small cohort of people working in Australia who have contributed so much to our communities and to the economy,” FECCA CEO Mohammad Al-Khafaji said.

“They include disability and aged care workers supporting those in need, highly skilled engineers adding expertise to local companies, chefs and service staff contributing to successful hospitality businesses, and those on temporary visas who are seeking asylum.”

He said Australians would agree that people who have worked in Australia for many years shouldn’t be “left destitute without any other safety net”. 

Casual teachers

While not-for-profits are covered, services like schools are not, as they generally don’t record revenue. 

In NSW alone, there are 50,000 casual teachers in addition to support staff who will effectively have all shifts cut as schools transition to online learning, and who will not be eligible for the JobKeeper payment as a school is not a business. 

The Independent Education Union, which represents teachers in the private and religious schools sector, on Tuesday wrote to Education Minister Dan Tehan outlining its concerns

“Many of our members risk being stood-down or receive no income at all in the coming time because the 30 per cent threshold of loss of revenue will not be able to be demonstrated. IEUA members working in support roles in schools have already been warned by employers that their jobs are at risk.”

It said there are models for ways to recognise prior work performed by casual teachers at schools, and the government should work to find ways to support casual teachers. 

“It is clear that casual relief teachers in schools currently have a poor outcome under the current JobKeeper model and many are facing zero income in the coming period,” the union wrote.

The union for public school teachers, the Australian Education Union made similar claims.

“With many schools moving to remote teaching, the nature of a highly casualised workforce means we have many teachers and school support staff who do not have financial certainty of income through the crisis,” AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe said.

"However it is unclear at this point just how relevant the Commonwealth's wage subsidy scheme is to these workers, given that they are mostly employed by State and Territory governments. This is understandably a topic of great concern for these school employees.”

Haythorpe said while casual and contract teachers employed by private agencies may qualify for the wage subsidy, they’re largely paid by state and territory governments.

“The uncertainty for casual teachers and support staff causes significant anxiety and must be resolved.”

A Change.org petition has also been launched to campaign for the JobKeeper payment for casual teachers.

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