Finance Work Canberra under pressure to help Victorian workers hit by lockdown

Canberra under pressure to help Victorian workers hit by lockdown

casual high court
The High Court has overturned a judgment that said a long-term casual worker was entitled to leave. Photo: AAP
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

Canberra is resisting widespread calls to financially back Victorian workers affected by a snap coronavirus lockdown.

There are hundreds of thousands of hospitality staff affected by the week-long restrictions who no longer have access to JobKeeper payments.

The nation’s peak hospitality body is calling for temporary, targeted assistance for workers and businesses forced to close in Victoria.

Australian Hotels Association boss Stephen Ferguson said almost 230,000 workers across more than 26,000 businesses had been left with no income and nowhere to turn for help.

“We understand the public health orders are put in place to make Australians safe,” Mr Ferguson on Friday.

“But the latest seven-day lockdown in Victoria highlights again that workers and businesses are stuck with no co-ordinated scheme in place to look after the welfare of businesses and workers financially impacted by the restrictions imposed on them.”

The lockdown has been primarily blamed on failures in hotel quarantine and the sluggish vaccine rollout, which are both Commonwealth responsibilities.

The state government is preparing to announce a support package for small businesses smashed by the lockdown, which is expected to deliver a $2.5 billion hit to the Victorian economy.

But there are suggestions the Commonwealth is reluctant to help because it does not want to set a precedent.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt deferred questions about economic supports to the state government.

“They have said they will be providing additional support and we take them at their word,” he told ABC radio.

“This is a difficult time and I’ll leave those matters to the treasurer, but it’s the Victorian government that has indicated they will be taking measures.”

Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino has indicated the state government will provide support to businesses, but also suggested the Commonwealth needs to help casual workers.

“Wage subsidies are entirely a matter for the Commonwealth government so we will not step into that place,” he said in Melbourne.

Federal opposition frontbencher Mark Butler said the Morrison government had left Victorians high and dry.

“Ripping away JobKeeper while the vaccine rollout was running so far behind schedule was always economically dangerous,” Mr Butler said.

“We now see Victorians dangerously exposed economically.”

Greens leader Adam Bandt has called for JobKeeper to be reintroduced during the lockdown in Melbourne.