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‘Virus ravages business’: Casual staff crumble as hours slashed

Casual workers crumble as hours slashed. Source: Getty

Most Aussies are working from home to stop the spread of coronavirus, but only if their jobs permit.  

For those who can’t, or those who work casually, the virus outbreak is resulting in huge chunks of lost income. 

Almost a quarter of Australian employees are casual workers, without any access to paid leave, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics data from 2019.

If you include self-employed Australians, that figure increases to 37 per cent. 

On top of that, only 10 per cent of casual staff are able to work remotely, meaning the majority are simply not working. 

Candy Hertz is a Melbourne-based live event and sport MC, and says a large portion of her work has been cancelled due to the virus.

“I definitely can’t do my key role, which is MCing live events and sporting events, remotely,” she said. 

“I had to cancel a large council event over the weekend, and I’m not sure whether they’ll still honour that invoice. I was meant to be doing the Herald Sun’s Run for the Kids, but they cancelled that too.”

“Then I have stuff that I’ve had booked in for the rest of the year that now I’m kind of uncertain as to whether any of it will go ahead,” she said. 

Luckily Hertz’s skill set means she can step into other roles, like lecturing at a university, but she says nothing is certain. 

“I’m still casual with all these roles, and it’s not enough,” she said. 

Hertz also revealed the current climate has resulted in emotional stress too. 

“I was at home on Friday after being told that my event for the weekend had been cancelled, and I thought it was fine. Then I woke up the next morning and I felt a sense of overwhelm,” she said. 

But rather than dwell, Hertz has decided to be proactive about it. 

“I am seeking to find solutions rather than get myself into a bit of a tizzy,” she said. “I think that that’s not productive for me, my mind or the industry.”

“I’m intending to use my skills as a communicator in more of a writing capacity, so finding online roles to create content,” she said. “I don’t know what else to do.”

17-year-old entrepreneur, Jack Bloomfield, says the effect is “devastating” on younger Aussies too.

“I don't know one person my age who has a full-time job that includes sick leave and job security,” he said.

“This means that all of them will be without income for as long as this virus ravages small businesses.”

“I don't know many teenagers who have savings so therefore just meeting their basic cost of living expenses like fuel or public transport to get to uni won't be an option. How can anyone be expected to study whilst their basic expenses can't be met?”

Businesses cut hours

Melbourne-based small business owner, Jacinta Taylor, said she’s had to halve her casual staff’s hours amid the virus. 

“I have a casual employee working around 12 hours a week with me,” Taylor told Yahoo Finance. 

“I sell textile homewares online on Etsy, eBay and at markets and events across Victoria and, as of Friday evening, all of my market events were cancelled.”

Taylor said she’s lost 50 per cent of her monthly revenue, but still has to foot the same supplier obligations and ongoing business costs. 

“I have had to halve my casual’s hours for now while I work out what to do,” she said. 

After extensive lobbying by trade unions, larger companies like Woolworths, Commonwealth Bank and Telstra have pledged to pay casual staff who contract coronavirus or who are required to self-isolate. 

Wesfarmers, who owns Bunnings, Kmart, Target and Officeworks, has also planned to provide support to casual workers amid the virus outbreak. 

What are casual staff entitled to?

All employees, including casuals, are entitled to two days of unpaid carer’s leave or compassionate leave, but given that it’s unpaid, it doesn’t solve the problem of income loss due to the virus. 

Australians who can’t work due to illness can apply for ‘sickness allowance’, though this will be phased out on March 20, and replaced by a broader job-seeker payment with similar conditions. 

To get the sickness allowance, you must be:

  • At least 22, but under Age Pension age;

  • In a job; and

  • Under the income and assets test limits. 

The sickness allowance for singles with no children is a fortnightly payment of $559.

Claimants for the sickness allowance face a waiting period of around one week, plus an extra period of up to 13 weeks if they have readily available financial assets of $5,000 or more. 

What could be done?

Economist Stephen Koukoulas told Yahoo Finance freelance and casual workers should be given a financial boost by the government.

“You’ve got to get money into people’s pockets,” he said. 

One solution could be everyone with a PayG, or a tax file number or ABN could receive a cash boost. 

“You can do a few things like that for people on PayG incomes, young people, people working for the gig economy - it could even be rental assistance,” Koukoulas said.

“They’re all a bit radical, but this is very, very unusual. This is a radical time we’re going through - we need to look at every option.”

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